Obama Serves Up Controversy at National Prayer Breakfast

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Tony Perkins is president of the Family Research Council.

NASCAR Hall-of-Famer Darrell Waltrip drove home the gospel message last week at the 63rd National Prayer Breakfast. To a crowded room, he shared his testimony about how a serious accident "knocked him conscious" of his spiritual state of being lost. In a moving testimony, Waltrip said he asked Jesus to forgive his sins and become his Savior, a decision that transformed his life. President Obama followed the NASCAR legend on the program, and the cautionary flags came out almost immediately. "We see faith driving us to do right," he said. "But we also see faith being twisted and distorted, used as a wedge -- or worse, sometimes used as a weapon… We see ISIL -- a brutal, vicious death cult that, in the name of religion…" If the President had stopped there or juxtaposed the present fruit of Islam with that of Christianity, we could have ended on a high note. But he didn't.

In a speech that I can only describe as surreal, the President went on to liken Christians to the monsters behind ISIS and American racism. "And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ." First of all, the crusades were almost a thousand years ago. ISIS is killing today. What's more, every true follower of Christ condemns the acts of barbarism committed under the mask of religion -- in medieval or American history. The teachings of Christianity do not call for, nor do they condone, brutality or bigotry. Can the same be said of Islam? Are Muslims around the world denouncing the ruthless and inhumane actions of ISIS?

Speaking under the influence of political correctness, the President missed an opportunity to address the growing threat that radical Islam presents to the world. He could have challenged the leaders from the 100-plus countries who were present last week to stand united against this scourge. Let's be clear: "faith" isn't being used as a "weapon," as he suggested. Islamists are using weapons to kill innocent women and children. And many of those innocent women and children happen to be Christians -- the same victims the President conveniently glosses over when he talks about persecution of other religious groups. Unfortunately, theirs is a plight that continues to be a footnote in the administration's long chapter of religious liberty failures. While the President did manage to mention American pastor Saeed Abedini, who has been tortured for two years in an Iranian prison for his faith, he has yet to publicly demand his release. And Pastor Abedini is a U.S. citizen!

The attacks on conservatives were a bit more nuanced, but the jabs were unmistakable. Using religion as a cloak for his party's social hypocrisy, he said, "There is a tendency in us, a sinful tendency that can pervert and distort our faith. In today's world, when hate groups have their own Twitter accounts and bigotry can fester in hidden places in cyberspace, it can be even harder to counteract such intolerance." As for intolerance, the President didn't seem to recognize his own administration's, whose policies have been used as a bludgeon against men and women with biblical views. While Americans lose their businesses for exercising the rights he claims to defend, the President insisted that he will "constantly reaffirm… the freedom of religion -- the right to practice our faith how we choose, to change our faith if we choose, to practice no faith at all if we choose, and to do so free of persecution and fear and discrimination." The Kleins, Stutzmans, Millers, Bracys, and dozens of others long to experience that kind of freedom. Instead, they're closing their businesses, losing their homes, and paying crippling fines simply for living according to their moral conscience.

In the end, this event was about prayer. And if anything demonstrated America's need for it, this breakfast did.

Tony Perkins is president of the Family Research Council.