On Feb. 3, President Barack Obama visited an American mosque — the first such visit of his presidency. He went to the Islamic Society of Baltimore, to reaffirm the importance of religious pluralism … and respect for that pluralism … here in the United States.
In so doing, he refuted unequivocally the bigoted anti-Muslim rhetoric heard all too often on the political campaign trail these days, and he reaffirmed one of the foundational ideals of the United States: welcoming and celebrating religious diversity.
Early on, he noted that the Islamic State Group’s terror attacks in Paris and San Bernardino have led to verbal and physical attacks on Muslims and mosques and even Muslim children in the United States: These are children just like mine. And the notion that they would be filled with doubt and questioning their places in this great country of ours at a time when they’ve got enough to worry about — it’s hard being a teenager already — that’s not who we are.
President Obama put this present moment into historical context. He recounted some of our sordid history of religious in-tolerance. The first was a somewhat light-hearted reference to himself. During his first campaign for president, Obama himself was “accused” — if one can use that word — of being a Muslim himself. But he drifted from the text of his speech to note that ” …Thomas Jefferson’s opponents tried to stir things up by suggesting he was a Muslim … so I was not the first … I’m in good company.”