Ten Christian leaders sent a Wednesday letter to President Barack Obama, thanking him for his National Prayer Breakfast speech in which he called for expanding religious freedom abroad. They also urged him to pay greater attention to his own policies that are infringing upon the religious freedom of his own citizens.
"As religious leaders we write to express our appreciation to you for lifting up the issue of international religious liberty in your recent address at the National Prayer Breakfast," they wrote.
The letter specifically thanks Obama for mentioning prisoners Saeed Abedini and Kenneth Bae, and for announcing that he will soon name a new ambassador at large for International Religious Freedom.
"Religious liberty and freedom of conscience were universally acclaimed by America's Founders and Framers to be foundational for all further human rights and liberties," the letter adds. "It is worthy and inspiring that you have called upon all Americans to stand up for the free exercise of religion at this critical hour."
The Christian leaders then note a disconnect between Obama's call for religious freedom abroad while restricting religious freedom in the United States. They ask Obama to preserve the religious freedom of his own citizens who have not been fully protected by the president's policies.
"As you promote religious freedom abroad, please also give attention to preserving the First Amendment freedoms of all Americans here at home," the letter states. "Some Americans are concerned that your administration's domestic policies do not fully protect the religious convictions of all our citizens. Your leadership abroad will be strongest as you point to the robust religious freedom protection that is provided even to those who may be critics of your administration."
Many of the signers of the letter have been outspoken opponents of the Obama administration's birth control mandate. The mandate requires employers, even most religious employers, to cover contraception, sterilization and drugs that could cause an abortion in their employee's health care plans.
Next summer, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear a challenge to the mandate from two Christian-owned companies, Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Woods Specialties.
One of the letter's signers is Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals. NAE has filed a "friend of the court" brief in support of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Woods.
"The government does not have the right to violate the religious beliefs of any of its citizens, including business owners," Anderson said in a released statement. "Business owners in America should be able to run their businesses according to their religious faith and values."
In his National Prayer Breakfast Speech, Obama eloquently reminded the audience that the right of every person to practice their faith how they choose is central to human dignity.
"Today we profess the principles we know to be true," he said. "We know that each of us is wonderfully made in the image of God. We therefore believe in the inherent dignity of every human being – dignity that no earthly power can take away. And central to that dignity is freedom of religion – the right of every person to practice their faith how they choose, to change their faith if they choose, or to practice no faith at all, and to do this free from persecution and fear."
The rest of the signers are Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington; Russell D. Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention; Joel C. Hunter, senior pastor of Northland, A Church Distributed; Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference; Dwayne Leslie, director of legislative affairs for the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists; Brent McBurney, president & CEO of Advocates International; John K. Jenkins, Sr., senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Glenarden; William "Bill" P. Robinson, interim president of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities; and Stephen F. Schneck, director of the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at The Catholic University of America.