Obama on refugees: No 'religious tests to our compassion'

by Kelly Ledbetter, |
President Barack Obama, President Recep Tayyip Erdo?an of Turkey and Prime Minister David Cameron of the United Kingdom and the other members and staff of the G20 Summit, observe a moment of silence during Working Session One in Antalya, Turkey for the victims of the terrorist attacks in France, Sunday, Nov. 15, 2015. | Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

ANTALYA, Turkey (Christian Examiner) – At the G20 Summit in Turkey, President Barack Obama gave a press conference in which he addressed the resonse of some American politicians who have suggested screening individuals based on their religious preferences.

At the conference on the Monday after the attack in Paris, the President answered the question about how the terror attacks allegedly under the name of Islam can be shown to be not representative of Muslims.

It is good to remember that the United States does not have a religious test, and we are a nation of many peoples of different faiths, which means that we show compassion to everybody

President Obama spoke against limiting refugees by religion. "And when I hear folks say that, well, maybe we should just admit the Christians but not the Muslims; when I hear political leaders suggesting that there would be a religious test for which a person who's fleeing from a war-torn country is admitted, when some of those folks themselves come from families who benefitted from protection when they were fleeing political persecution—that's shameful," he said.

Over the weekend, presidential candidates recommended more stringent immigration policies. Sen. Ted Cruz initially told the Washington Post Syrian Christians pose no risk to American security, but Monday added that "we need to vet anyone coming in." Jeb Bush told CNN he believed America should focus on aiding Christians rather than refugees of any other religion.

"That's not American," President Obama said. "That's not who we are. We don't have religious tests to our compassion."

Numerous state governors have also protested accepting refugees as a matter of national security.

The President referred to Pope Francis' recent speech to Congress in which the pontiff charged the nation to protect the vulnerable, not only those of the same faith. "And so I think it is very important for us right now—particularly those who are in leadership, particularly those who have a platform and can be heard—not to fall into that trap, not to feed that dark impulse inside of us."


The President spoke of the migrant crisis directly, praising Germany and Turkey for their acceptance of refugees.

"In Europe, I think people like Chancellor Merkel have taken a very courageous stance in saying it is our moral obligation, as fellow human beings, to help people who are in such vulnerable situations. And I know that it is putting enormous strains on the resources of the people of Europe.

"Nobody has been carrying a bigger burden than the people here in Turkey, with 2.5 million refugees, and the people of Jordan and Lebanon, who are also admitting refugees. The fact that they've kept their borders open to these refugees is a signal of their belief in a common humanity."

After explaining his desire to see the Paris attack to be defined as a terrorism problem rather than "a Muslim problem," the President said Muslims around the world should nevertheless question how "extremist ideologies [could] take root."

He challenged Muslim communities to "push back" against the idea that killing innocents can be justified by religion, noting the role social media has contributed to the distribution of extremism. He also pointed out "the overwhelming majority of victims of terrorism ... are themselves Muslims."


Returning to the question of the need to differentiate between terrorist and Muslim, the President praised the Bush administration for making that difference clear.

"I was very proud after 9/11 when he [George W. Bush] was adamant and clear about the fact that this is not a war on Islam. And the notion that some of those who have taken on leadership in his party would ignore all of that, that's not who we are. On this, they should follow his example. It was the right one. It was the right impulse. It's our better impulse."

President Obama clearly condemned religious discrimination: "We don't kill people because they're different than us. That's what separates us from them [ISIS]. And we don't feed that kind of notion that somehow Christians and Muslims are at war."

Reminding people of both faiths to avoid promoting any implication that religions are at war, the President called for Americans to remember Pope Francis' words to offer compassion to anyone in need without religious discrimination.

"Those are the universal values we stand for. And that's what my administration intends to stand for," Obama said.