Today, President Obama officially signed the Frank Wolf International Religious Freedom Act, a bill that received bipartisan support for its measures to protect religious minorities from extremism around the world. The core of the bill is to provide tools that will equip and train diplomats to prevent religious persecution. Because of the law, all foreign services officers will be required to undergo religious freedom training.
As the Baptist Standard notes, the bill has drawn universal acclaim for its promotion of religious freedom, with groups as diverse as the American Humanist Association to the Southern Baptist Convention. The bill also protects "nontheistic beliefs as well as the right not to profess or practice any religion.”
In a statement issued on the day Congress voted to approve the bill, Rep. Chris Smith, who co-wrote the bill, said,
Ancient Christian communities in Iraq and Syria are on the verge of extinction and other religious minorities in the Middle East face a constant assault from the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria … The freedom to practice a religion without persecution is a precious right for everyone, of whatever race, sex, or location on earth.
Rep. Anna Eshoo explained to America Magazine, “This bill will improve U.S. efforts to promote religious freedom globally; better train and equip diplomats to counter extremism; address persecution; mitigate conflict and help the ambassador-at-large for religious freedom to coordinate religious freedom efforts.” Discuss
For a while now, President Obama has been criticized by some pundit and political rivals for refraining from using the term “radical Islam” when discussing acts of terrorism.
Well, this week, he finally addressed those criticisms, essentially saying they were political distraction. In his statement (which you can watch below), the president said he typically uses other phrases (like, recently “extremist ideology”), not for reasons of political correctness, but because he doesn’t want the global perception to be that the United States is at war with a religion—which, he explains, is what ISIS wants.
Calling a threat by a different name does not make it go away. This is a political distraction. Since before I was president, I’ve been clear about how extremist groups have perverted Islam to justify terrorism … Not once has an advisor of mine said, ‘Man, if we use that phrase, we’re going to turn this thing around.’ Not once. So, someone seriously thinks we don’t know who we’re fighting? … There’s no magic to the phrase ‘radical Islam.’ It’s a political talking point …
The reason I am careful of how I describe this threat, has nothing to do with political correctness, and everything to do with defeating extremism. Groups like ISIL and Al Qaeda want to make this war a war between Islam and America, or between Islam and the West. They want to claim that they are the true leaders of over a billion Muslims around the world who reject their crazy notions. They want us to validate them by implying they speak for those billion plus people.
Perhaps in an another attempt to clear the air, President Obama agreed to appear on a Cuban comedy show, and it is painful to watch. In a running bit, Cuban comedian Luis Silva has a character called Pánfilo, who always tries to call the U.S. President, and finds himself rebuffed. But this time, in the sketch that wouldn't end, Obama actually answers and it is wildly uncomfortable. Maybe it's so bad, it's actually good? Well, probably not. Discuss
President Obama has begun talks with Supreme Court Justice candidates to replace Justice Antonin Scalia. Among those who are being considered are Chief Judge Merrick Garland of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia; Judge Sri Srinivasan, of the same court; Judge Paul Watford, of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals based in San Francisco; Judge Jane Kelly, of the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals based in St. Louis; and U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, who serves in Washington, D.C. NPR reports that Garland, Srinivasan and Watford are on the short list for the vacancy.
The president is moving ahead with the nomination process despite Republican senators' statements that they will not consider—or even meet with—an Obama appointee. They want the next president to make the nomination. Discuss
President Obama unveiled his plan to fulfill his campaign promise to shut down Guantanamo Bay. The plan suggests moving 35 of the 91 remaining prisoners to other countries and the rest to facilities on U.S. soil. The proposal comes seven years after the president, then insurgent candidate, first promised to close the facility. The president cheekily recalled this history, remarking that President Bush and his then rival for office, Senator John McCain, supported closing the prison before the facility became “ a partisan issue.” During his speech, the president outlined his reasons for closing the prison:
For many years, it has been clear that the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay does not advance our national security. This is not just my opinion. This is the opinion of experts and the opinion of many in our military. As Americans, we pride ourselves as being a beacon to other nations—a model of the rule of law. But 15 years after the worst terrorist attacks in American history, we are still having to defend the existence of a facility and a process when not a single verdict has been reached in those attacks.
Two administration officials who spoke with reporters gave details to how they plan to save money by closing the facility and explained that this new plan was drafted to work with Congress, where closing the facility has been met with great opposition. “We hope that this will be the beginning of a more sustained conversation in which we articulate some of the thinking behind it,” one of the officials said. “We’re not entirely clear on how that conversation will play out, but we’re committed to moving it forward.” Discuss