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President Obama Prays For the Goodwill of Our Nation

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Remarks by the President at the National Prayer Breakfast


Washington Hilton

Washington, D.C.


9:10 A.M. EST


THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Please, please, everybody have a seat. Well, good morning, everybody. It is good to be with so many friends united in prayer. And I begin by giving all praise and honor to God for bringing us together here today.


I want to thank our co-chairs Mark and Jeff; to my dear friend, the guy who always has my back, Vice President Biden. (Applause.) All the members of Congress –- Joe deserves a hand –- all the members of Congress and my Cabinet who are here today; all the distinguished guests who’ve traveled a long way to be part of this. I’m not going to be as funny as Eric -- (laughter) -- but I’m grateful that he shared his message with us. Michelle and I feel truly blessed to be here.

This is my third year coming to this prayer breakfast as President. As Jeff mentioned, before that, I came as senator. I have to say, it’s easier coming as President. (Laughter.) I don’t have to get here quite as early. But it’s always been an opportunity that I’ve cherished. And it’s a chance to step back for a moment, for us to come together as brothers and sisters and seek God’s face together. At a time when it’s easy to lose ourselves in the rush and clamor of our own lives, or get caught up in the noise and rancor that too often passes as politics today, these moments of prayer slow us down. They humble us. They remind us that no matter how much responsibility we have, how fancy our titles, how much power we think we hold, we are imperfect vessels. We can all benefit from turning to our Creator, listening to Him. Avoiding phony religiosity, listening to Him.


This is especially important right now, when we’re facing some big challenges as a nation. Our economy is making progress as we recover from the worst crisis in three generations, but far too many families are still struggling to find work or make the mortgage, pay for college, or, in some cases, even buy food. Our men and women in uniform have made us safer and more secure, and we were eternally grateful to them, but war and suffering and hardship still remain in too many corners of the globe. And a lot of those men and women who we celebrate on Veterans Day and Memorial Day come back and find that, when it comes to finding a job or getting the kind of care that they need, we’re not always there the way we need to be.


It’s absolutely true that meeting these challenges requires sound decision-making, requires smart policies. We know that part of living in a pluralistic society means that our personal religious beliefs alone can’t dictate our response to every challenge we face.


But in my moments of prayer, I’m reminded that faith and values play an enormous role in motivating us to solve some of our most urgent problems, in keeping us going when we suffer setbacks, and opening our minds and our hearts to the needs of others.


We can’t leave our values at the door. If we leave our values at the door, we abandon much of the moral glue that has held our nation together for centuries, and allowed us to become somewhat more perfect a union. Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, Jane Addams, Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day, Abraham Heschel -- the majority of great reformers in American history did their work not just because it was sound policy, or they had done good analysis, or understood how to exercise good politics, but because their faith and their values dictated it, and called for bold action -- sometimes in the face of indifference, sometimes in the face of resistance.


This is no different today for millions of Americans, and it’s certainly not for me.


I wake up each morning and I say a brief prayer, and I spend a little time in scripture and devotion. And from time to time, friends of mine, some of who are here today, friends like Joel Hunter or T.D. Jakes, will come by the Oval Office or they’ll call on the phone or they’ll send me a email, and we’ll pray together, and they’ll pray for me and my family, and for our country.


But I don’t stop there. I’d be remiss if I stopped there; if my values were limited to personal moments of prayer or private conversations with pastors or friends. So instead, I must try -- imperfectly, but I must try -- to make sure those values motivate me as one leader of this great nation.


And so when I talk about our financial institutions playing by the same rules as folks on Main Street, when I talk about making sure insurance companies aren’t discriminating against those who are already sick, or making sure that unscrupulous lenders aren’t taking advantage of the most vulnerable among us, I do so because I genuinely believe it will make the economy stronger for everybody. But I also do it because I know that far too many neighbors in our country have been hurt and treated unfairly over the last few years, and I believe in God’s command to “love thy neighbor as thyself.” I know the version of that Golden Rule is found in every major religion and every set of beliefs -– from Hinduism to Islam to Judaism to the writings of Plato.


And when I talk about shared responsibility, it’s because I genuinely believe that in a time when many folks are struggling, at a time when we have enormous deficits, it’s hard for me to ask seniors on a fixed income, or young people with student loans, or middle-class families who can barely pay the bills to shoulder the burden alone. And I think to myself, if I’m willing to give something up as somebody who’s been extraordinarily blessed, and give up some of the tax breaks that I enjoy, I actually think that’s going to make economic sense.


But for me as a Christian, it also coincides with Jesus’s teaching that “for unto whom much is given, much shall be required.” It mirrors the Islamic belief that those who’ve been blessed have an obligation to use those blessings to help others, or the Jewish doctrine of moderation and consideration for others.


When I talk about giving every American a fair shot at opportunity, it’s because I believe that when a young person can afford a college education, or someone who’s been unemployed suddenly has a chance to retrain for a job and regain that sense of dignity and pride, and contributing to the community as well as supporting their families -- that helps us all prosper.


It means maybe that research lab on the cusp of a lifesaving discovery, or the company looking for skilled workers is going to do a little bit better, and we’ll all do better as a consequence. It makes economic sense. But part of that belief comes from my faith in the idea that I am my brother’s keeper and I am my sister’s keeper; that as a country, we rise and fall together. I’m not an island. I’m not alone in my success. I succeed because others succeed with me.


And when I decide to stand up for foreign aid, or prevent atrocities in places like Uganda, or take on issues like human trafficking, it’s not just about strengthening alliances, or promoting democratic values, or projecting American leadership around the world, although it does all those things and it will make us safer and more secure. It’s also about the biblical call to care for the least of these –- for the poor; for those at the margins of our society.


To answer the responsibility we’re given in Proverbs to “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.” And for others, it may reflect the Jewish belief that the highest form of charity is to do our part to help others stand on their own.


Treating others as you want to be treated. Requiring much from those who have been given so much. Living by the principle that we are our brother’s keeper. Caring for the poor and those in need. These values are old. They can be found in many denominations and many faiths, among many believers and among many non-believers. And they are values that have always made this country great -- when we live up to them; when we don’t just give lip service to them; when we don’t just talk about them one day a year. And they’re the ones that have defined my own faith journey.


And today, with as many challenges as we face, these are the values I believe we’re going to have to return to in the hopes that God will buttress our efforts.


Now, we can earnestly seek to see these values lived out in our politics and our policies, and we can earnestly disagree on the best way to achieve these values. In the words of C.S. Lewis, “Christianity has not, and does not profess to have a detailed political program. It is meant for all men at all times, and the particular program which suited one place or time would not suit another.”


Our goal should not be to declare our policies as biblical. It is God who is infallible, not us. Michelle reminds me of this often. (Laughter.) So instead, it is our hope that people of goodwill can pursue their values and common ground and the common good as best they know how, with respect for each other. And I have to say that sometimes we talk about respect, but we don’t act with respect towards each other during the course of these debates.


But each and every day, for many in this room, the biblical injunctions are not just words, they are also deeds. Every single day, in different ways, so many of you are living out your faith in service to others.


Just last month, it was inspiring to see thousands of young Christians filling the Georgia Dome at the Passion Conference, to worship the God who sets the captives free and work to end modern slavery. Since we’ve expanded and strengthened the White House faith-based initiative, we’ve partnered with Catholic Charities to help Americans who are struggling with poverty; worked with organizations like World Vision and American Jewish World Service and Islamic Relief to bring hope to those suffering around the world.


Colleges across the country have answered our Interfaith Campus Challenge, and students are joined together across religious lines in service to others. From promoting responsible fatherhood to strengthening adoption, from helping people find jobs to serving our veterans, we’re linking arms with faith-based groups all across the country.


I think we all understand that these values cannot truly find voice in our politics and our policies unless they find a place in our hearts. The Bible teaches us to “be doers of the word and not merely hearers.” We’re required to have a living, breathing, active faith in our own lives. And each of us is called on to give something of ourselves for the betterment of others -- and to live the truth of our faith not just with words, but with deeds.


So even as we join the great debates of our age -- how we best put people back to work, how we ensure opportunity for every child, the role of government in protecting this extraordinary planet that God has made for us, how we lessen the occasions of war -- even as we debate these great issues, we must be reminded of the difference that we can make each day in our small interactions, in our personal lives.


As a loving husband, or a supportive parent, or a good neighbor, or a helpful colleague -- in each of these roles, we help bring His kingdom to Earth. And as important as government policy may be in shaping our world, we are reminded that it’s the cumulative acts of kindness and courage and charity and love, it’s the respect we show each other and the generosity that we share with each other that in our everyday lives will somehow sustain us during these challenging times. John tells us that, “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.”


Mark read a letter from Billy Graham, and it took me back to one of the great honors of my life, which was visiting Reverend Graham at his mountaintop retreat in North Carolina, when I was on vacation with my family at a hotel not far away.


And I can still remember winding up the path up a mountain to his home. Ninety-one years old at the time, facing various health challenges, he welcomed me as he would welcome a family member or a close friend. This man who had prayed great prayers that inspired a nation, this man who seemed larger than life, greeted me and was as kind and as gentle as could be.


And we had a wonderful conversation. Before I left, Reverend Graham started praying for me, as he had prayed for so many Presidents before me. And when he finished praying, I felt the urge to pray for him. I didn’t really know what to say. What do you pray for when it comes to the man who has prayed for so many? But like that verse in Romans, the Holy Spirit interceded when I didn’t know quite what to say.


And so I prayed -- briefly, but I prayed from the heart. I don’t have the intellectual capacity or the lung capacity of some of my great preacher friends here that have prayed for a long time. (Laughter.) But I prayed. And we ended with an embrace and a warm goodbye.


And I thought about that moment all the way down the mountain, and I’ve thought about it in the many days since. Because I thought about my own spiritual journey –- growing up in a household that wasn’t particularly religious; going through my own period of doubt and confusion; finding Christ when I wasn’t even looking for him so many years ago; possessing so many shortcomings that have been overcome by the simple grace of God. And the fact that I would ever be on top of a mountain, saying a prayer for Billy Graham –- a man whose faith had changed the world and that had sustained him through triumphs and tragedies, and movements and milestones –- that simple fact humbled me to my core.


I have fallen on my knees with great regularity since that moment -- asking God for guidance not just in my personal life and my Christian walk, but in the life of this nation and in the values that hold us together and keep us strong. I know that He will guide us. He always has, and He always will. And I pray his richest blessings on each of you in the days ahead.


Thank you very much. (Applause.)

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In today's world Christian politicians just say whatever the voters want to hear. Plugging in Jesus, Holy Spirit, and Patriotism. President Obama why do Christian voters have to be forced to do things against their beliefs?


Why not create an executive order that exempts religious institutions from paying for birth control. But, allowing it for extreme medical conditions.



Luke 23:23 - 23:29


23 But they were urgent with loud cries, demanding that he should be crucified; and their cries prevailed.

24 And Pilate gave sentence that their demand should go into effect.

25 And he released him that for insurrection and murder had been cast into prison, whom they chose; but Jesus he delivered up to their will.

26 And as they led him away, laying hold on Simon a certain Cyrenian, as he came from the country, they laid on him the cross that he might bear it after Jesus.

27 And there followed him a great multitude of the people, and of women that bewailed and lamented him.

28 But Jesus turned to them and said: Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me; but weep for yourselves and for your children;

29 for behold, there are coming days in which they shall say: Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that did not give suck.

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Press Briefing by White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, 2/7/2012

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:59 P.M. EST


Q Just to wrap up on this point, there’s a perception out there -- and in some cases David Axelrod’s comments led some to think that the very implementation you’ve talked about over the next year or so will lead to a different outcome, that in the rule-making, there will be some deal cut, some out given to get away from this controversy. Ultimately, no matter how it’s implemented, will the bottom line remain the same, that these organizations have to provide that contraceptive coverage?


MR. CARNEY: The President’s interest is in making sure that -- on the one side of this balance -- is in making sure that all American women, all women here, have access to the same preventive care services.


He is also concerned about and understands the religious concerns that have been raised and takes seriously the religious convictions that are behind the concerns that have been raised. And we will work in this period to see if there is a way, to try to find a way to make sure that the implementation of the policy or to see if the implementation of the policy can be done in a way that allays some of those concerns.


But there are ways to I think help resolve this issue that ensures that we provide that important preventive service, that health care coverage, to all women, and that tries -- in a way that also tries to allay some of these concerns.


Q In terms of the health care rule on birth control -- this rule doesn’t provide those health services for all women, as you said, though, right? Because there is a carve-out for houses of worship.


MR. CARNEY: Correct. There is an exemption for churches and houses of worship. And I think that the principle here is that churches and houses of worship, it’s an issue of hiring people of like faith, versus these large institutions, like universities and hospitals, where, whether you’re a nurse or a teacher, a professor, a student, a janitor, somebody in administration -- you are going to have folks of all faiths who work for those large institutions. And therefore the President believes that they ought to be able to have access -- those women ought to be able to have access to the same contraceptive services that other women will have access to.


Q Is there a middle ground somewhere where perhaps some of these religious organizations that aren’t specifically houses of worship, but are Catholic or Jewish or Baptist hospitals, charities, of a smaller size could be -- could receive the same exemption as the houses of worship? We’re talking about people who think that some methods of birth control are murder, are a sin, and the Obama administration is forcing them to be party to that. I mean, that’s the crux here.


MR. CARNEY: Well, let’s be clear -- and first of all, we understand the religious concerns here. That is why this balance was sought. That’s why the process going forward includes a transition period where this discussion will continue to see if there can be ways found that ensure that women get access to these preventive services and that those services are covered -- as they will be for all other women -- and that also takes into account these religious concerns.


But let’s be clear, the rule does not require any individual or institution to provide contraception. It requires coverage for women who work there of different faiths, or of any faith.


Q It provides them to pay for it.


MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I’m not going to negotiate all the different possibilities of how this rule could be implemented in a way that might allay some of those concerns. That’s what the transition period is for.


Q I actually just want to make sure I’ve got this right. It seemed like you suggested that the White House has always been open to a compromise during this grace period, but that maybe that point was overlooked in the initial coverage of the ruling. Is that a correct reading?


MR. CARNEY: On January 20th, when this decision was announced, Secretary Sebelius said, “We will continue to work closely with religious groups during this transitional period to discuss their concerns.”


That’s the point I’m making, is that in the initial coverage of the decision, the fact that this transitional period was put in place precisely to have these discussions with religious groups about their concerns was in many cases overlooked.


The point is not -- it’s not about a change in policy, it’s simply to shine a light on that announcement and the fact that this transitional period has been in place since the announcement, and that its purpose is to have these discussions so that we can see if there’s a way to ensure that we can implement the policy that provides important health care coverage of preventative services to women and also can allay some of these concerns that are expressed by religious groups, which the President takes seriously.


Q So is it -- would it be fair to say that the White House is not ruling out granting further exemptions?


MR. CARNEY: Look, the President is committed to providing -- to ensuring that the law provides the same coverage to all women of the important preventive services here that we’re discussing. There are enormous health benefits to providing those services, there are financial benefits, and the President is committed to doing that.


How the process moves forward in these discussions in terms of examining possible ways that we could potentially allay some of these concerns, there are a lot of different ideas out there, and I’m not going to sort of grade them from here, but that the whole purpose of the transition period was to have that discussion.


Q Thank you. On the contraception issue, I’m just trying to kind of discern here, is the administration open to women employed by religious employers receiving coverage for contraception in a different way than women employed by non-religious employers?


MR. CARNEY: Well, again, without getting into different potential options --


Q Not the details, I’m just talking the concept.


MR. CARNEY: But no -- but I think your question illuminates an important issue here, which is the President’s interest at a policy level is in making sure that this coverage is extended to all women because it’s important financially. It’s important to individual woman’s health and also to health writ large for the country. So within that, that’s the -- on the one side.


And the other side of finding the right balance is concerns about religious beliefs and convictions. So we will in this transition period and these discussions seek to find ways to implement that policy that allay some of those concerns. I don’t want to predict because I don’t know what all the various possibilities those discussions will entertain, or predict how successful they will be in allaying everyone’s concerns about this issue.


But that is the approach the President is taking, and that is why when the decision was initially announced that Secretary Sebelius made clear that that process was put into place.


Q You had said last week that the decision, the ruling does strike a balance. And it sounds now like you’re saying he’s working -- or you’re working -- the administration is working towards finding a balance. I mean, there seems to be distinction there.


MR. CARNEY: Well, look, I think that the decision to exempt churches and houses of worship -- an exemption that, as I noted before, doesn’t even exist in I think eight states in the country -- represents an effort to find that balance, and he believes he found the appropriate balance.


But we’re going to continue to work with religious groups to try to allay their concerns as we implement a policy that provides this coverage to women across the country.


Q But on the issue of religious employers, because, I mean, I’ve spoken with and a ton of people here have spoken with people who are concerned about this. Maybe they don’t even -- the issue of contraception isn’t really an issue for them, but when it comes down to telling a religious employer of their religious persuasion what they can and cannot do that really bothers them, and so they want to know if there’s been a change, if there’s a distinction.


MR. CARNEY: Well, again, Brianna, I think that there’s a discussion that will take place about these issues. The President’s commitment is ensuring that this health care coverage is provided to women, and I think there are -- one important point to make, as we have this discussion, is that 28 states already require insurance companies to provide contraceptive services. Eight states, as I noted in the past, provide no exemption, not even the exemption that the policy announced by Secretary Sebelius provides, for churches and houses of worship.


So that is an important context within which to view the policy decision as well as this period of transition as we discuss the various concerns that have been raised.

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Guest American4Progress

Contraception is an important, accepted, widely-used, and heretofore largely non-controversial aspect of modern life in America, which is why the president moved forward with plans to guarantee that all women have affordable access to birth control — a decision supported by a majority of Americans, including a majority of Catholics.

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The President listens and respected the will of the religious.




Remarks by the President on Preventive Care


James S. Brady Press Briefing Room


12:15 P.M. EST


Q Here we go.


THE PRESIDENT: Here we go.


Q Here he is.




Q "Hello, everybody."


THE PRESIDENT: That was pretty good.


Q I've been working on that.


THE PRESIDENT: Hello, everybody. (Laughter.) I was actually going to say good morning. But I guess it's afternoon by now.


As part of the health care reform law that I signed last year, all insurance plans are required to cover preventive care at no cost. That means free check-ups, free mammograms, immunizations and other basic services. We fought for this because it saves lives and it saves money –- for families, for businesses, for government, for everybody. That’s because it’s a lot cheaper to prevent an illness than to treat one.


We also accepted a recommendation from the experts at the Institute of Medicine that when it comes to women, preventive care should include coverage of contraceptive services such as birth control. In addition to family planning, doctors often prescribe contraception as a way to reduce the risks of ovarian and other cancers, and treat a variety of different ailments. And we know that the overall cost of health care is lower when women have access to contraceptive services.


Nearly 99 percent of all women have relied on contraception at some point in their lives –- 99 percent. And yet, more than half of all women between the ages of 18 and 34 have struggled to afford it. So for all these reasons, we decided to follow the judgment of the nation’s leading medical experts and make sure that free preventive care includes access to free contraceptive care.


Whether you’re a teacher, or a small businesswoman, or a nurse, or a janitor, no woman’s health should depend on who she is or where she works or how much money she makes. Every woman should be in control of the decisions that affect her own health. Period. This basic principle is already the law in 28 states across the country.


Now, as we move to implement this rule, however, we’ve been mindful that there’s another principle at stake here –- and that’s the principle of religious liberty, an inalienable right that is enshrined in our Constitution. As a citizen and as a Christian, I cherish this right.


In fact, my first job in Chicago was working with Catholic parishes in poor neighborhoods, and my salary was funded by a grant from an arm of the Catholic Church. And I saw that local churches often did more good for a community than a government program ever could, so I know how important the work that faith-based organizations do and how much impact they can have in their communities.


I also know that some religious institutions -– particularly those affiliated with the Catholic Church -– have a religious objection to directly providing insurance that covers contraceptive services for their employees. And that’s why we originally exempted all churches from this requirement -– an exemption, by the way, that eight states didn’t already have.


And that’s why, from the very beginning of this process, I spoke directly to various Catholic officials, and I promised that before finalizing the rule as it applied to them, we would spend the next year working with institutions like Catholic hospitals and Catholic universities to find an equitable solution that protects religious liberty and ensures that every woman has access to the care that she needs.


Now, after the many genuine concerns that have been raised over the last few weeks, as well as, frankly, the more cynical desire on the part of some to make this into a political football, it became clear that spending months hammering out a solution was not going to be an option, that we needed to move this faster. So last week, I directed the Department of Health and Human Services to speed up the process that had already been envisioned. We weren’t going to spend a year doing this; we're going to spend a week or two doing this.


Today, we've reached a decision on how to move forward. Under the rule, women will still have access to free preventive care that includes contraceptive services -– no matter where they work. So that core principle remains. But if a woman’s employer is a charity or a hospital that has a religious objection to providing contraceptive services as part of their health plan, the insurance company -– not the hospital, not the charity -– will be required to reach out and offer the woman contraceptive care free of charge, without co-pays and without hassles.


The result will be that religious organizations won’t have to pay for these services, and no religious institution will have to provide these services directly. Let me repeat: These employers will not have to pay for, or provide, contraceptive services. But women who work at these institutions will have access to free contraceptive services, just like other women, and they'll no longer have to pay hundreds of dollars a year that could go towards paying the rent or buying groceries.


Now, I've been confident from the start that we could work out a sensible approach here, just as I promised. I understand some folks in Washington may want to treat this as another political wedge issue, but it shouldn’t be. I certainly never saw it that way. This is an issue where people of goodwill on both sides of the debate have been sorting through some very complicated questions to find a solution that works for everyone. With today’s announcement, we've done that. Religious liberty will be protected, and a law that requires free preventive care will not discriminate against women.


We live in a pluralistic society where we're not going to agree on every single issue, or share every belief. That doesn’t mean that we have to choose between individual liberty and basic fairness for all Americans. We are unique among nations for having been founded upon both these principles, and our obligation as citizens is to carry them forward. I have complete faith that we can do that.


Thank you very much, everybody.

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Guest American4Progress

Since all reasonable objections by religious groups have now been fully accommodated, it’s now clearer than ever that anyone who still opposes this plan really just opposes affordable access to birth control — period. And now that’s just what Congressional Republicans in the House and Senate are vowing to do — take away affordable access to birth control. They already tried to take away the birth control benefit yesterday in the Senate, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) stopped them. We expect House Republicans to try and do the same next week.

Meanwhile, Boehner’s own taxpayer subsidized health care plan already covers birth control. If it’s good enough for him, it’s good enough for the American people.

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