The comments came a day after the White House refuted suggestions that the US President’s public speech in New Delhi, in which he touched on religious tolerance, was a “parting shot” aimed at the ruling BJP.
Hours before winding up his three-day visit to India on January 27, Obama had said, “Every person has the right to practice his faith without any persecution, fear or discrimination. India will succeed so long as it is not splintered on religious lines. Your Article 25 says all people are equally entitled to the freedom of conscience and have the right to freely profess, practice and propagate religion. In both our countries, in all countries, upholding freedom of religion is the utmost responsibility of the government, but also the responsibility of every person.”
On Thursday, at the high-profile National Prayer Breakfast, Obama said, “Michelle and I returned from India — an incredible, beautiful country, full of magnificent diversity — but a place where, in past years, religious faiths of all types have, on occasion, been targeted by other people of faith, simply due to their heritage and their beliefs — acts of intolerance that would have shocked Gandhiji, the person who helped to liberate that nation.”
However, he did not name any particular religion and said the violence is not unique to one group or one religion.
“Humanity has been grappling with these questions throughout human history. 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 (racial segregation state and local laws) all too often was justified in the name of Christ,” he said, addressing a gathering of over 3,000 US and international leaders.
“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. But God compels us to try. And in this mission, I believe there are a few principles that can guide us, particularly those of us who profess to believe,” he said.
On Wednesday, the White House had refuted allegations that Obama’s remarks in India were aimed at the BJP, saying that the speech in its entirety was about the “core democratic values and principles” of both the US and India.