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Dr. Michael Newdow is a practicing physician. He also has a law degree. Over the last several years he has taken on the federal government over high-profile First Amendment issues, sometimes going all the way to the Supreme Court. I spoke to Dr. Newdow at his home in Sacramento, California on 19 January 2010. The following transcript (about 6,000 words) has been edited for clarity.


RS: You were trained as a doctor?

MN: I was.

RS: Were you a practicing physician?

MN: I am. I work in emergency rooms, all over the country, at what are called locums.

RS: I’m embarrassed. I thought you were an ex-doctor.

MN: No, that’s how I make money. I’ve never made a nickel from law.


RS: Can you give me a capsule overview of the cases you’re working on? Your web site lists three of them.

MN: There are five cases total. In one, though, my involvement is only ancillary. It’s a case that was brought here by the Freedom From Religion Foundation; I’m just the local counsel. It’s challenging the tax exemption that “ministers of the gospel” get, according to the IRS.

RS: Which is one of the most ridiculous –

MN: Yeah. It’s really a very interesting case. For that one, as I say, I’m ancillary. Then there are two Pledge cases. One is here in the Ninth Circuit; I’ve brought another in the First Circuit, in case the Ninth Circuit rules against us. I have potential plaintiffs in every circuit. The Seventh Circuit has already ruled. The Fourth Circuit’s kind of already ruled. In the Ninth Circuit, we’re waiting.

In the First Circuit we have another case, for which we’re working on the appellant’s brief right now. It’s due February 1st. This is the one challenging the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance. And I have another case in the Ninth Circuit, challenging the printing of “In God we trust” on our coins and currency. It’s the national motto too, but I don’t really have standing for that.

Lastly, there’s a case challenging the religious aspects of the inauguration. The presidential oath is the only passage in the entire Constitution that is meant to be recited verbatim; and here we have the Chief Justice of the United States changing it, adding the words “so help me God.” And then we have the chaplains.

RS: I remember two “invocations.”

MN: One’s an invocation, one’s a benediction. Of course I don’t know what the difference is, if there is a difference.

RS: I felt that having priests come up and do that was just outrageous. Unbelievable.

MN: The first time I saw it was in 2001, right here in this house. I had no idea. I just happened to be home at the time, and I thought, “I’ll watch the inauguration.” It was Franklin, what’s his name, Graham. The son of Billy Graham. They invited Billy Graham, but he was too sick. Franklin Graham prayed in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and of the Lord Jesus Christ or something. And then Kirby John Caldwell came on and prayed in the name of all the other names. It was just incredible.

So I filed suit then. This was in 2001: Bush’s first inauguration. The federal government argued that I didn’t have standing. They said, “If you saw it in person there in Washington you’d have standing, but you saw it here on TV, so you don’t.” The case got appealed. Now, the magistrate in this case originally ruled that I did have standing. He said, “There’s no difference between going there or seeing it on TV. You were in the audience that was affected by it, so you have standing.” The Ninth Circuit reversed that, but without explanation; they just said “Newdow doesn’t have standing.”

I brought the case again in 2005. This time I got a ticket to go there, because I wanted to see the inauguration. Not to see this stuff; I didn’t want to see this stuff, I wanted to see the inauguration. They said last time I didn’t have standing, so OK, this time I’ve got a ticket. And this time the federal government argued, “Well, it’s really the same case, and since you didn’t have standing last time, you don’t have standing this time either”! And the judge actually bought into that! So I lost again.

Then I brought it again in 2009, this time with 250 other plaintiffs, and we’ll see. We just had the oral argument a month ago. December 15th.

RS: In San Francisco?

MN: No, this is in the D.C. circuit, in Washington. And the issue is just standing, because the lower court just said “You don’t have standing,” without explaining why. So we’ll see. The Court of Appeals mentioned that they can decide it on any ground. They can decide the whole thing. And if they do, they’ll obviously go against us – because we’ve never had an opportunity to really argue the merits! It’s always over standing. We had some opportunity when we moved for an injunction, to get them to not do it, but we lost there.

So basically there are four cases that I’m directly involved with.

RS: Do you think the “ministers of the Gospel” case might have the best chance of winning, since it’s so narrowly defined?

MN: They all have chances of winning. But you may be right, because statutorily, that one’s an exemption. Plus it just really seems off the wall. But to me they’re all off the wall, so we should win on all of them. But whether we will or not, that’s another issue.


RS: If you had to argue specifically about the standing, what would you say besides, “Hey, I’m a citizen”?

MN: Being a citizen doesn’t get you standing. That’s the whole point of standing, that you need more than that. You need to show that you were personally affected.

It’s actually a bogus thing. In Article III they talk separately about “cases” and “controversies”; and so the Supreme Court has said, “Alright, we’re going to interpret those words narrowly, because we don’t want just anybody to go bring a case. Or a controversy.”

To some degree they’re correct. A case called Baker v. Carr talks about this specifically. In this decision they say, we only want to hear people who have “alleged such a personal stake in the outcome of the controversy as to assure that concrete adverseness which sharpens the presentation of issues upon which the court so largely depends for illumination of difficult constitutional questions.” So the idea is that we want people who are really invested in the case; we don’t want just some Joe Schmoe saying, “Hey, I think you’re wrong,” and not doing a good job, because then they don’t have an opportunity to really understand. But my thought has always been, if that’s your point, then just make sure that people who bring cases do a good job; if they don’t, you can say, “You didn’t do a good enough job, we’re not going to decide this thing.”

RS: They can always just dismiss it, right? They can say, “You don’t have a case.”

MN: They can say, “You didn’t do a good enough job,” and they can have a rule that if you don’t present the case well enough, they’ll throw it out. You have to do it again, or something. Or you’ll be penalized. They can give you sanctions for not doing that. They can do a lot of things. But instead they have this “standing” thing.

RS: You’re saying: to prevent frivolous cases, impose a penalty for bringing them.

MN: And there are penalties. You already can get sanctions if you bring a frivolous case.

RS: So is Baker v. Carr now considered an important precedent?

MN: Well, they talk about it all the time. Standing is a huge issue. And you waste so much time on these issues of standing. If you did it the other way you wouldn’t have that problem!


RS: As the plaintiff, how do you describe the harm that you experience when the government proclaims these Christian messages?

MN: The way it’s phrased is “unwelcome exposure to a governmental sponsorship of religion.” That gives you your standing. If you go to a city council meeting, and they start off with a prayer, you’ve had unwelcome exposure. As opposed to, for example, just hearing about it. “I heard that the city council starts off their meetings this way; I think that violates the Constitution.” That doesn’t give you standing. But if you go to the meetings, not to have that conflict but just because you want to go to a city council meeting – just like I want to go to the inauguration, I don’t go there to see this stuff, I want to not see this stuff. I want to see, you know, Barack Obama. It’s a pretty historic thing. And then I had to be confronted with this stuff. And 250 other people did too.

RS: So it’s “unwelcome,” but you don’t have to show that you were emotionally injured or something.

MN: Well, you brought the suit, so obviously you were psychologically harmed. Something bothered you. That’s all the harm you need.


RS: In a smaller setting, say you went to a Lodi city council meeting and they started it with a prayer; would you say something right then? What would you say?

MN: You mean personally? Oh, I’ve done that. I went to a thing for Assembly member Dave Jones, our representative. Nice guy. He was giving a symposium or something – at a local church. Nice place to choose to begin with! – but OK. We don’t want hostility toward religion. So if he’s having things in various areas and a church offers, fine. But then they actually announced, “First we’ll have a prayer, and then we’ll start.” So I went up to the front, and I said, “Excuse me, you’re not allowed to do that. This is a government function.” And they didn’t do it. So that was pretty cool.

RS: So the way you phrased it was, “You’re not allowed.”

MN: You’re not allowed. You’re not here as a church, you’re sponsoring representative Jones’s meeting, and there are those of us who don’t want to hear this stuff. So they didn’t do it, which was a wise and a correct decision. The wrong decision was for them to think that that’s how we should start a government meeting.

RS: It seems not even to occur to people that there could be something wrong with it. But then if you challenge them on it, they can be tremendously resistant.

MN: Some people will. That’s why we have an Establishment Clause. Because the framers recognized that people love to have the government espousing their religious views. That’s exactly what you’re not allowed to do.


RS: Ideally, maybe the Constitution wouldn’t say anything about religion at all. And in fact they came close, didn’t they? But there were people who wanted very much to include religious language. Isn’t there a story about Benjamin Franklin asking, “Why aren’t we mentioning the Creator in this document?”

MN: Not quite. Not in the document. During the Constitutional Convention, one of the major issues was how to apportion representatives to the legislature. The big states said, “We’re bigger states, we should have more votes,” and the small states said, “We’re states, and we should have equal votes.” So they came up with the great compromise where we have two senators and a proportional number of representatives. I think it was at that point that Franklin said, “We haven’t had any prayers. Who doesn’t see that, when the sparrow falls and so on; if the Creator knows about that, He should be involved with this thing,” and he moved to have a prayer during the Convention. And they didn’t do it; he was voted down. But that wasn’t in the Constitution, just during the debates.

RS: So no one even moved to have –

MN: The only thing that I’m aware of is, in Article VI – the sixth of the seven Articles of the Constitution – it says: this is the supreme law of the land; all States are under the Constitution of the United States. And everybody – all the federal officials, all the state officials, every executive branch, legislative branch, judicial branch officer, everybody – has to take an oath to support the Constitution. But! “No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” They threw in that language. And some people objected: “Wait a second, we might get people who don’t believe in God!” But it stayed, “No religious test”.

The oath of office for the president, in Article II, doesn’t say “so help me God”; there’s no God mentioned in the Preamble; it just isn’t in there. There are lots of other places it could have been mentioned, and it’s not. The only place where religion is specifically addressed is there in Article VI.

They ratified the constitution in 1788. In 1789, Congress met. One of the first things Congress did, spurred by Madison, was to get a Bill of Rights. Many people thought, “We don’t need a Bill of Rights. This is a Constitution of enumerated powers; if something is not in the Constitution, the government of the United States has no power to do it. There’s nothing in the Constitution about religion, therefore the government of the United States has no power to get involved in religious matters.”

But with the ratification pending, in a lot of the States, there was a tacit agreement: we’re going to get a Bill of Rights that lays out ways to keep this big new government out of our lives. And one of the things they wanted to protect was religion. So at that point they came in with the Establishment clause: “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion” – “or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”: the Free Exercise clause.

During that debate there were some arguments that we should bring in religion. Benjamin Rush was not in the legislature, but he wrote a letter to Adams – a week after Madison proposed the Bill of Rights – saying, “Many pious people wish the name of the Supreme Being had been mentioned somewhere in our new Constitution. Perhaps an acknowledgement of his Providence or Goodness may be made in the proposed Amendments.” There was a bigwig from Maryland, Luther Martin; there were scattered other people. They heard those arguments; they did the opposite. They said: “no law respecting the establishment of religion.”

RS: So it seems like the consensus on this point was actually very strong.

MN: It seems that way to me. Now there are people who disagree. Justice Thomas, for example, says that the Establishment clause wasn’t about an individual right not to have the government impose religion on anybody. It was a separation of powers issue. Nine of the eleven States that had constitutions had state religions in there. So Thomas says this had nothing to do with individual rights.

I think it’s a hard argument to adhere to. It may be correct, but even if it’s correct, the 14th Amendment – which is how we now have the federal Bill of Rights incorporated and applied to the States – those people certainly didn’t intend to have religion there; the States have Establishment clauses of their own. So it clearly wasn’t a separation of powers issue within the States, because there is nothing to separate there. But I don’t think it was correct even at the beginning, because first of all look where it’s sitting. It’s sitting in the First Amendment. All of those rights are individual rights. Why would they throw this jurisdictional thing in the middle of the First Amendment? They’d have put it out there in the Ninth or the Tenth Amendment if it was that kind of thing.

So it doesn’t make sense to me. But even if it’s correct, and even if you forget the 14th Amendment argument, everyone accepts now that we’ve set a limitation on the powers of the government. The justicies who would rule against me in the cases I have brought are basically saying, “That doesn’t really count”, or “It’s not that big a deal”, or “It’s ceremonial.” Basically, their argument is: “You don’t like it, but I like it.” But on the principle, except for Justice Thomas’s argument, there’s no conceivable reason why you would rule against me on any of these cases.


RS: Is there a problem with the First Amendment, in that it can be twisted by religious people, where they construe it as prohibiting “interference” with their religion, even if they do terrible things like, you know, murdering a doctor?

MN: I don’t think that’s quite right. There are two clauses, and those things always need to be kept separate. First, there’s the Establishment Clause: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” That means, government has to stay out of the business of religion. It can’t take sides in religious matters. Justice Scalia has said, “The government may not lend its power to one or the other side in controversies over religious dogma.” But obviously they’re lending their power to the side that says God exists, when they allow “In God We Trust”! The rule is that government has to stay out of that. That’s the Establishment Clause.

The Amendment continues: “or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” That means, government can’t interfere with anyone else’s religion. And those in the Religious Right who say, “You’re interfering with our religion,” are absolutely correct. Certainly we have other laws, and when there’s a conflict, then you have to chose which law counts more. We have laws against murder. That one, we have all agreed, supersedes your religious rights. There’s a conflict there. There are tensions, but usually one supersedes the other.

In the Establishment Clause arena, there is usually no tension. What they do then, and maybe this is what you’re talking about in terms of twisting things, is they take that Free Exercise clause, which says “we have the right to exercise our religion,” and then they say, “The way we want to exercise it is to get the government to espouse our views.” That’s the Establishment Clause area. That’s the specific thing you’re not allowed to do. There’s not even a tension there. Nothing in your Free Exercise rights gives you the right to get the government to do your bidding. If you want to do your own bidding, go ahead. If you want to go to school and worship on your knees and pray to Jesus, you have every right to do that. What you can’t do is to get the teachers to join you. And that’s where they twist things sometimes. That’s their argument that fails. Or it should fail; sometimes it doesn’t!

RS: Isn’t the Free Exercise clause kind of strange? Because the things we consider illegal are already illegal – murder, animal sacrifice, child abuse and so on – and if something’s not illegal, then it’s legal; so it seems like it’s already always going to be legal to exercise your religion, as long as you don’t do something illegal. So I guess I don’t understand the purpose of the clause.

MN: We’ve separated religion out as a special subject area. It’s become a Constitutional right.

We live in a democracy. So, normally, the way lays get passed is, you have legislators, you support your legislators, you lobby, the legislators vote, and a law gets passed. And if you don’t like that law – too bad. You can lobby more, donate, get your fellow citizens to protest, do whatever your want through the democratic process and maybe you’ll get the law changed; but you can’t go to court and say, “I don’t like this law.” If you were cited for going over 60 miles an hour, and you file a case saying that you think the speed limit is too low, they’ll throw it out. That’s not a right you have. That’s what the legislature’s for. Go lobby and maybe you can get the law changed, but you can’t do it in court.

But when we’re talking about fundamental rights, that whole ball game changes. So if you did have a religious tenet that said, “I have to be able to go 65 miles an hour; God called me and told me, ‘Drive 65 miles an hour!'” – if that was a sincerely held belief, you would have a claim! And the burden all of a sudden shifts. Before, you would get thrown out of court, but now, the government would have to say, “Joe Schmoe here has a valid claim, and now the burden is on us, the government, to show that we have a compelling interest. So we are going to say, for example: 20 extra people die per year because of speeding.” The burden would be on the government. That’s what fundamental rights do. So the fact that the Free Exercise clause is a fundamental right – after all, it’s in the Bill of Rights! – changes the whole ballgame.

So they’re correct to say that the burden has to be on the government. Well, that’s how it was, up until 1990. Then there was a case called Employment Division v. Smith – authored by Scalia, but it was a majority opinion. It’s an interesting case. I won’t go into the details, but basically the Supreme Court said, “We’re not going to have the burden be as hard as we made it before.”

It used to be that even a neutral law, that has nothing to do with religion – speeding, for example – could be challenged on the basis that it was interfering with free exercise. But the Supreme Court changed the rules in 1990, and said, “No. If it’s a neutral law, you don’t have any special claim.”

On the other hand, if they’re targeting you, the Smith decision doesn’t change that. For instance, you mentioned animal sacrifices. There was a case in Hialeah where the Supreme Court said exactly the opposite of what you just implied. They said, “You can’t make a law against animal sacrifice.” Because when you looked at the legislative history of that law in Hialeah, it was targeted against a group called the Santerians. And while they were outlawing animal sacrifice for the Santerians, they allowed it for kosher shops and all sorts of other things. So the Supreme Court said, “You are interfering with their exercise of religion; in fact, that was the purpose of your law.” That’s clearly unconstitutional. You can’t target a group for their religious beliefs.

But if it’s a neutral law, they said in Smith, you don’t have a right to go back and challenge it. In response to that, Congress got all bent out of shape – “Oh, no! Now they’re going to interfere with Christian rights!” – and they passed an act. This would have been a legislative, a statutory right, not a Constitutional right; but they “restored” the test to what it was before Smith – effectively saying, “You have to have a compelling interest. We are overruling the Supreme Court.” To which the Supreme Court came back and said, “You can’t overrule us, we’re the Supreme Court!”

The Smith decision means that the federal Constitution does not prohibit the government from making neutral laws that interfere with people’s free exercise. But what about the federal law that puts “In God We Trust” on all our coins and currency? That interferes with people’s rights of religion. We have a church. It met here last night. We pass the plate every time, but we can’t collect money, because we refuse to take money that says “In God We Trust” on it. So that’s a harm, and we think that the government should have to show a compelling interest to do it. That’s the argument in the case; we’ll see what they do. I don’t know how they can rule against us, unless they totally twist logic and stand it on its head.

RS: Which they can do.

MN: Sure. Judges always can do that. But we hope they don’t.


RS: If you were rewriting the Bill of Rights, would you be tempted to leave out the Free Exercise Clause?

MN: Not at all. It’s a great thing.

RS: So you do think that religion is a fundamental right.

MN: Absolutely.

RS: Did you say that your church doesn’t accept money that says “In God We Trust” on it?

MN: We refuse to use it. Make believe you’re a Jew and all the money has a cross on it and the words “Jesus is Lord.” Or, you’re a Christian and the words are “The Prophet Mohammed is God’s Chosen Person.” Would you carry that around?

RS: People have become so used to it –

MN: Some people. Some people couldn’t care less; some people are very upset. Some people think it’s exceedingly important. We know this because when the Mint decided to put it on the rim of the dollar coins, Congress got bent out of shape: it wasn’t prominent enough. “E Pluribus Unum”, “In God We Trust” and I think “Liberty”, too, were all on the rim. Those three mottoes are required by federal law to be on every coin. They were going to put them on the rim, and Congress passed a law that specifically took only “In God We Trust” and said: “This has to be on the front or the back so you can see it clearly.”

RS: That was recently, wasn’t it?

MN: The last couple years. And what’s the reason behind that? Obviously because the politicians know that if you talk about God, 90 percent of the people, those who believe in God, tend to like your views a little more. So you stand up for God. Concomitant with that is the notion that people who don’t believe in God are not as good as “we” are.

RS: So some of the people who are promoting religion in public life are doing it only because they want more votes.

MN: Well, some are. But there’s nothing wrong with religion in public life. Individuals and groups can get together and worship God and Jesus all they want. That’s what’s protected by the Free Exercise Clause. What they can’t do, what is prohibited under our Constitution, is to use the government to do that. And they keep mixing that up. So they say we’re “keeping religion out of the public square” if we don’t want “In God We Trust” on our coins and currency. And we say, No! The public square? Do anything you want! This is about the government square, and you are not allowed to get your religious views in there. Nor can I get my religious views in there. I can’t get my government to say “God is a myth.”

And I’m not asking for that. I just want the government to stay out of this business.

There’s a judge on the Ninth Circuit. He’s actually a really bright guy and writes beautifully. But when the Pledge case came out he wrote – there’s a thing called the rehearing en banc. When you bring a case you bring it to one judge, the District Court judge. That judge makes a decision. Say it gets appealed. There’s a three-judge panel, and when the three-judge panel rules, that becomes precedent for that circuit, forever – till it’s overruled either by the Supreme Court or what’s called a rehearing en banc, where instead of a three-judge panel you actually get 11 judges, and they all hear the case.

RS: In the same circuit.

MN: In the same circuit. And that’s really binding: almost as good as a Supreme Court precedent. The only thing that’ll overturn that is another en banc panel, which is highly unlikely, or the Supreme Court.

So when the Pledge case came out, and I won, the other side, the defendants, said, “Wait a second, this is really important stuff,” and they moved to have a rehearing en banc. When a judge asks for a rehearing en banc, it gets sent to all the other active judges, and they vote. So it was like 16 to 9, I think, to not have the rehearing; to leave the decision as it was.

And so this fellow wrote a dissent from the denial of the rehearing en banc. That is, he thought it should be heard en banc. And in the dissent he says, “This is favoring atheists.” What! How is this favoring atheists? All we were doing is getting rid of the favoritism for you people, who believe in God. It’s not favoring us, it’s getting rid of favoritism for you! And this is a really smart guy, you know? – who doesn’t see that. It’s pretty extraordinary.

RS: So, let me get this straight. The en banc didn’t happen.

MN: Did not happen.

RS: So the decision stayed.

MN: The decision stayed, until we went to the Supreme Court.

RS: So now it’s at the Supreme Court.

MN: No, it went to the Supreme Court in 2004, and I lost. They said it had to do with family law. It has nothing whatsoever to do with family law, but that was their excuse to not hear the case.


RS: I’m curious, do you follow the atheist blogosphere?

MN: No.

RS: You don’t interact with those people – P.Z. Myers and so on.

MN: Well, I agree with most things that they say. I’m certainly not averse to listening to them. As a matter of fact Myers is speaking in Davis on the 21st, and if I can, I’ll go see his talk, because I’ve never seen him speak and I’d like to hear what he has to say. But when people say, “You’re an atheist activist” – I’m not. I’m an equal protection activist.

There’s a case right now in the 9th Circuit, it was just heard en banc actually, called Catholic League. San Francisco has a policy where they think everybody, including gays and lesbians, should be able to adopt children. And the Catholic Church is obviously against that. They think that homosexuality is an abomination. So they wrote to all the Catholics and they got an official letter or whatever from the Archbishop or whoever it was, telling all the Catholics, “Vote against this. This is a terrible thing. This is doing violence to children, to have them with homosexual parents.”

The City of San Francisco came out with a resolution that specifically singled out the Catholic Church. It said, “The Catholic Church is bad. They have this horrible policy, and you Catholics should stop saying things like this.”I wrote an amicus brief in favor of the Catholics. Government is not supposed to get involved in religious matters. The government should not be saying, “This church is bad.” Now if they want to say, “We believe that homosexuals should be allowed to adopt,” they have every right to do that, and I encourage them to do that. But they cannot make a pronouncement that says, “You people, of that religion, you’re wrong. You’re bad. You should be castigated.” So I’m on the Catholic side there, because I think government should treat everybody equally.

RS: That’s where I get confused, trying to think through these issues. It seems like we don’t so much need a rule that you can’t interfere with people’s religions –

MN: But we do, because otherwise we get laws like the one that said, “You people can’t have animal sacrifice, because we don’t like you Santerians, and because we’re the majority.”

RS: What if the rule was that no law can say anything about religion?

MN: Well, we do have that, pretty much. I mean you can’t take a position in terms of religion. That’s exactly what the law says. That’s the Establishment Clause.

RS: So a law that prohibited animal sacrifice would be valid; a law that prohibited animal sacrifice by Santerians would be invalid, because it –

MN: How about a law that prohibits animal sacrifice and is targeting the Santerians, but we don’t put that in the law! That’s why we have a Free Exercise Clause.

RS: I guess in an ideal world you would only have to say, “Here are the laws, and don’t do the illegal things.”

MN: In an ideal world, you wouldn’t need a law – or a Constitution. Obviously we need something to fall back on when individuals do things that are discriminatory, etcetera.

You could say the same thing about the equal protection laws, in terms of Blacks and Whites. Why don’t we just not have any law regarding race? Because people are racist! So you need some protection. It’s the exact same thing.

RS: But we need that law because people behave badly with respect to race.

MN: Yes! It’s exactly the same thing. People also behave badly with respect to religions that they don’t adhere to. That’s why the framers put it in there. There’s no race in the bill of rights. There’s no gender, no sexual orientation, no anything else. The only thing that’s addressed is religion, because that’s one area, back then especially, where we saw all sorts of prejudice. And even today, look at Iraq or Northern Ireland –

RS: But couldn’t you say, in the case of religion, that it is religion itself that is creating these problems? We wouldn’t say that race is a problem; it’s racism. But religion is different. I kind of think that religion itself is the problem – because the conflict between religions is inherent in religion. That’s not true of races or sexes.

MN: Why do we have a law that it should say “In God We Trust” on our coins and currency? Why are we willing to put that there? Because people have religion, and think belief in God is great.

RS: So why should we protect the “free exercise” of this thing that we don’t want?

MN: That’s a separate issue. It’s the obverse of that problem. Take animal sacrifice. I think that’s a great case to show this point. The government says, “This has nothing to do with religion, we just don’t want animal sacrifice” – whereas we know what they were really doing. Take the Ten Commandments monument. They say, “This is not because of religion, it’s just historical.” Because the Ten Commandments have so much to do with our history! Which everyone still buys! I don’t see anything in our history that verifies this – but that’s their alleged claim. How do you prevent that, if it’s not religious? We want to be able to say: “You put that in there specifically so that the people who don’t believe in the Abrahamic religions are made to feel second-class.” If you have to bow when you go by there, for example, that interferes with people’s rights. There are all sorts of ways government can interfere, slyly, with people’s religions. That’s what the Santerian case was. We want to make sure that that’s prevented.

RS: I keep wondering if the way to address the root of the problem is to somehow prevent religions from having so much power. But I guess that’s impossible.

MN: We don’t want that.

RS: We don’t want to limit the power of religion?

MN: We don’t want that at all. If people want to believe that Jesus is Lord and came down and told them to do whatever, they should have the right to believe that. They just can’t impose it on the rest of us, even if they are 99 percent of the population and we are only one percent. We don’t want to interfere with people’s religions.

RS: But religion encourages people to impose their views on others. That’s part of what religion is.

MN: Individually. Not through the government, that’s all. You should be able to proselytize. If you think that this is the way to eternal heavenliness or whatever, you should be able to go out and tell people about that.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses wanted to go out in the street and, you know, tell people about Jehovah. And people wanted to make it illegal. The Supreme Court said, “No. You can’t interfere with those rights, just because you are the majority.” We do want to protect that right. Very much. At least, I do; and I think most people do.

RS: Honestly, I worry that religion has a special property that basically warps your mind.

MN: Sure you do. But they don’t think that. We all think that we have the right way. We, as atheists, think that using logic and science is the right way to come to truth. They think not. Who’s going to decide? Let everyone go out into the marketplace of ideas and make their arguments. We don’t want government getting involved in that, that’s all. We want everyone to be free to go into that marketplace and make their arguments.


I wrote to President Obama today (via the White House “Contact Us” page). I said:

At a recent town hall meeting, you estimated that your national health care plan would cost $90 billion over 10 years. You also estimated that “about two-thirds” of it could be obtained by things “like eliminating subsidies to insurance companies.”

I’d like to remind you of the “elephant in the room” that is always standing there when the federal government seems to be strapped for cash. The budget for FY2010 includes $533.7 billion for the Department of Defense. This is a staggering number: about $1,800 for every man, woman and child in the United States; $7,000 for a family of four.

In one year.

If there are sources for two-thirds of the $90 billion that the new plan will require in its first year, the remaining $30 billion can be obtained by trimming the DoD’s allocation by six percent. Six percent! And think of the symbolism: we’re moving toward the well-being of all citizens, by stealing just a tiny bit from the Department of Death. It would be one of the most beautiful, humanitarian decisions our country has ever made.

I know, I should have followed this up more quickly. I thought the speech was mostly amazing, but it still had some awful things in it that should not go unnoticed. Here is the entire, official transcript of the speech, with occasional comments from me in blockquotes.

June 4, 2009



Cairo University
Cairo, Egypt

Thank you very much. Good afternoon. I am honored to be in the timeless city of Cairo, and to be hosted by two remarkable institutions. For over a thousand years, Al-Azhar has stood as a beacon of Islamic learning; and for over a century, Cairo University has been a source of Egypt’s advancement. And together, you represent the harmony between tradition and progress. I’m grateful for your hospitality, and the hospitality of the people of Egypt. And I’m also proud to carry with me the goodwill of the American people, and a greeting of peace from Muslim communities in my country: Assalaamu alaykum. (Applause.)

We meet at a time of great tension between the United States and Muslims around the world — tension rooted in historical forces that go beyond any current policy debate. The relationship between Islam and the West includes centuries of coexistence and cooperation, but also conflict and religious wars. More recently, tension has been fed by colonialism that denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims, and a Cold War in which Muslim-majority countries were too often treated as proxies without regard to their own aspirations. Moreover, the sweeping change brought by modernity and globalization led many Muslims to view the West as hostile to the traditions of Islam.

Violent extremists have exploited these tensions in a small but potent minority of Muslims. The attacks of September 11, 2001 and the continued efforts of these extremists to engage in violence against civilians has led some in my country to view Islam as inevitably hostile not only to America and Western countries, but also to human rights. All this has bred more fear and more mistrust.

Unfortunately, Islam is inevitably hostile to human rights. That is just a fact.

So long as our relationship is defined by our differences, we will empower those who sow hatred rather than peace, those who promote conflict rather than the cooperation that can help all of our people achieve justice and prosperity. And this cycle of suspicion and discord must end.

I’ve come here to Cairo to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world, one based on mutual interest and mutual respect, and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles — principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.

Islam does not share, with America, the ideals of “justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.” Not for a second. Not even moderate Muslims talk this way. To put this claim in the best possible light, we might say that it is a rhetorical trick — an interesting one that he has used before. He is telling Muslims: “I know you don’t really think this way; but you could pretend that you do, and people might believe you. And if you start thinking this way, we might be able to work with you. To save face, you can pretend that these were your true intentions all along.”

I do so recognizing that change cannot happen overnight. I know there’s been a lot of publicity about this speech, but no single speech can eradicate years of mistrust, nor can I answer in the time that I have this afternoon all the complex questions that brought us to this point. But I am convinced that in order to move forward, we must say openly to each other the things we hold in our hearts and that too often are said only behind closed doors. There must be a sustained effort to listen to each other; to learn from each other; to respect one another; and to seek common ground. As the Holy Koran tells us, “Be conscious of God and speak always the truth.” (Applause.) That is what I will try to do today — to speak the truth as best I can, humbled by the task before us, and firm in my belief that the interests we share as human beings are far more powerful than the forces that drive us apart.

Now part of this conviction is rooted in my own experience. I’m a Christian, but my father came from a Kenyan family that includes generations of Muslims. As a boy, I spent several years in Indonesia and heard the call of the azaan at the break of dawn and at the fall of dusk. As a young man, I worked in Chicago communities where many found dignity and peace in their Muslim faith.

This repeats, unfortunately, an old misconception about religion. Religious faith, whether Muslim or any other brand, does not provide dignity or peace. But I understand: he’s trying to be nice. It’s flattery. Which is not a crime – except that just in the previous paragraph he promised to tell the truth.

As a student of history, I also know civilization’s debt to Islam. It was Islam — at places like Al-Azhar — that carried the light of learning through so many centuries, paving the way for Europe’s Renaissance and Enlightenment. It was innovation in Muslim communities — (applause) — it was innovation in Muslim communities that developed the order of algebra; our magnetic compass and tools of navigation; our mastery of pens and printing; our understanding of how disease spreads and how it can be healed. Islamic culture has given us majestic arches and soaring spires; timeless poetry and cherished music; elegant calligraphy and places of peaceful contemplation. And throughout history, Islam has demonstrated through words and deeds the possibilities of religious tolerance and racial equality. (Applause.)

More flattery. To what extent are these achievements creditable to Islam? In what way did their Muslim affiliation help these people invent algebra or investigate disease? Are there tips in the Koran that make its readers more likely to excel in mathematics or science? Of course not.

And is there any factual support for that last sentence? I don’t know – but the same considerations apply. Even if some Muslims have been paragons of tolerance, it wasn’t because they were Muslims, it was in spite of that. Islam does not preach tolerance; no religion does. Kind people behave kindly even when their religion tells them not to. But afterward, religion will happily take the credit.

I also know that Islam has always been a part of America’s story. The first nation to recognize my country was Morocco. In signing the Treaty of Tripoli in 1796, our second President, John Adams, wrote, “The United States has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Muslims.” And since our founding, American Muslims have enriched the United States. They have fought in our wars, they have served in our government, they have stood for civil rights, they have started businesses, they have taught at our universities, they’ve excelled in our sports arenas, they’ve won Nobel Prizes, built our tallest building, and lit the Olympic Torch. And when the first Muslim American was recently elected to Congress, he took the oath to defend our Constitution using the same Holy Koran that one of our Founding Fathers — Thomas Jefferson — kept in his personal library. (Applause.)

So I have known Islam on three continents before coming to the region where it was first revealed.

Revealed? Isn’t that sort of a controversial claim?

That experience guides my conviction that partnership between America and Islam must be based on what Islam is, not what it isn’t. And I consider it part of my responsibility as President of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear. (Applause.)

But that same principle must apply to Muslim perceptions of America. (Applause.) Just as Muslims do not fit a crude stereotype, America is not the crude stereotype of a self-interested empire. The United States has been one of the greatest sources of progress that the world has ever known. We were born out of revolution against an empire. We were founded upon the ideal that all are created equal, and we have shed blood and struggled for centuries to give meaning to those words — within our borders, and around the world. We are shaped by every culture, drawn from every end of the Earth, and dedicated to a simple concept: E pluribus unum — “Out of many, one.”

Now, much has been made of the fact that an African American with the name Barack Hussein Obama could be elected President. (Applause.) But my personal story is not so unique. The dream of opportunity for all people has not come true for everyone in America, but its promise exists for all who come to our shores — and that includes nearly 7 million American Muslims in our country today who, by the way, enjoy incomes and educational levels that are higher than the American average. (Applause.)

Moreover, freedom in America is indivisible from the freedom to practice one’s religion. That is why there is a mosque in every state in our union, and over 1,200 mosques within our borders. That’s why the United States government has gone to court to protect the right of women and girls to wear the hijab and to punish those who would deny it. (Applause.)

Stupid, stupid, stupid. Women don’t want to cover their heads. They are made to cover their heads by the men who control their lives. And the U.S. should not support that control by calling the hijab a “right” that women have. This Orwellian language comes straight from the mullahs and imams – not the women.

So let there be no doubt: Islam is a part of America. And I believe that America holds within her the truth that regardless of race, religion, or station in life, all of us share common aspirations — to live in peace and security; to get an education and to work with dignity; to love our families, our communities, and our God. These things we share. This is the hope of all humanity.

Of course, recognizing our common humanity is only the beginning of our task. Words alone cannot meet the needs of our people. These needs will be met only if we act boldly in the years ahead; and if we understand that the challenges we face are shared, and our failure to meet them will hurt us all.

For we have learned from recent experience that when a financial system weakens in one country, prosperity is hurt everywhere. When a new flu infects one human being, all are at risk. When one nation pursues a nuclear weapon, the risk of nuclear attack rises for all nations. When violent extremists operate in one stretch of mountains, people are endangered across an ocean. When innocents in Bosnia and Darfur are slaughtered, that is a stain on our collective conscience. (Applause.) That is what it means to share this world in the 21st century. That is the responsibility we have to one another as human beings.

And this is a difficult responsibility to embrace. For human history has often been a record of nations and tribes — and, yes, religions — subjugating one another in pursuit of their own interests. Yet in this new age, such attitudes are self-defeating. Given our interdependence, any world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will inevitably fail.

This is a revolutionary proposition from Robert Wright — that the world is now better at supporting “non-zero sum” games than the old “winner takes all” kind. It would be very difficult to prove, but I think it’s a great thing to say.

So whatever we think of the past, we must not be prisoners to it. Our problems must be dealt with through partnership; our progress must be shared. (Applause.)

Now, that does not mean we should ignore sources of tension. Indeed, it suggests the opposite: We must face these tensions squarely. And so in that spirit, let me speak as clearly and as plainly as I can about some specific issues that I believe we must finally confront together.

The first issue that we have to confront is violent extremism in all of its forms.

In Ankara, I made clear that America is not — and never will be — at war with Islam. (Applause.) We will, however, relentlessly confront violent extremists who pose a grave threat to our security — because we reject the same thing that people of all faiths reject: the killing of innocent men, women, and children. And it is my first duty as President to protect the American people.

Why not say that terrorism is something all decent people reject, rather than “people of all faiths”? It has nothing to do with faith. Nothing.

The situation in Afghanistan demonstrates America’s goals, and our need to work together. Over seven years ago, the United States pursued al Qaeda and the Taliban with broad international support. We did not go by choice; we went because of necessity. I’m aware that there’s still some who would question or even justify the events of 9/11. But let us be clear: Al Qaeda killed nearly 3,000 people on that day. The victims were innocent men, women and children from America and many other nations who had done nothing to harm anybody. And yet al Qaeda chose to ruthlessly murder these people, claimed credit for the attack, and even now states their determination to kill on a massive scale. They have affiliates in many countries and are trying to expand their reach. These are not opinions to be debated; these are facts to be dealt with.

Now, make no mistake: We do not want to keep our troops in Afghanistan. We see no military — we seek no military bases there. It is agonizing for America to lose our young men and women. It is costly and politically difficult to continue this conflict. We would gladly bring every single one of our troops home if we could be confident that there were not violent extremists in Afghanistan and now Pakistan determined to kill as many Americans as they possibly can. But that is not yet the case.

And that’s why we’re partnering with a coalition of 46 countries.

A coalition? Why does that sound so false?

And despite the costs involved, America’s commitment will not weaken. Indeed, none of us should tolerate these extremists. They have killed in many countries. They have killed people of different faiths — but more than any other, they have killed Muslims. Their actions are irreconcilable with the rights of human beings, the progress of nations, and with Islam. The Holy Koran teaches that whoever kills an innocent is as — it is as if he has killed all mankind. (Applause.) And the Holy Koran also says whoever saves a person, it is as if he has saved all mankind. (Applause.) The enduring faith of over a billion people is so much bigger than the narrow hatred of a few. Islam is not part of the problem in combating violent extremism — it is an important part of promoting peace.

Wrong. Of course Islam is “part of the problem.” The mistake Obama makes here is the one everyone always makes: seeing Islam as a religious faith rather than as a network of fiefdoms – a loose affiliation of warlords, each with an army at his disposal.

Now, we also know that military power alone is not going to solve the problems in Afghanistan and Pakistan. That’s why we plan to invest $1.5 billion each year over the next five years to partner with Pakistanis to build schools and hospitals, roads and businesses, and hundreds of millions to help those who’ve been displaced. That’s why we are providing more than $2.8 billion to help Afghans develop their economy and deliver services that people depend on.

Let me also address the issue of Iraq. Unlike Afghanistan, Iraq was a war of choice that provoked strong differences in my country and around the world. Although I believe that the Iraqi people are ultimately better off without the tyranny of Saddam Hussein, I also believe that events in Iraq have reminded America of the need to use diplomacy and build international consensus to resolve our problems whenever possible. (Applause.) Indeed, we can recall the words of Thomas Jefferson, who said: “I hope that our wisdom will grow with our power, and teach us that the less we use our power the greater it will be.”

Can you imagine a milder way of saying, “I do not actually think that the war in Iraq was a great idea”? Why on Earth is he so soft-spoken about this?

Today, America has a dual responsibility: to help Iraq forge a better future — and to leave Iraq to Iraqis. And I have made it clear to the Iraqi people — (applause) — I have made it clear to the Iraqi people that we pursue no bases, and no claim on their territory or resources. Iraq’s sovereignty is its own. And that’s why I ordered the removal of our combat brigades by next August. That is why we will honor our agreement with Iraq’s democratically elected government to remove combat troops from Iraqi cities by July, and to remove all of our troops from Iraq by 2012. (Applause.) We will help Iraq train its security forces and develop its economy. But we will support a secure and united Iraq as a partner, and never as a patron.

I have an idea. Let’s pull all our troops out right now. This week. All of them. Why can’t anyone, even the most powerful man in the world, bring themselves to admit that sending our soldiers there to kill everyone they saw was one hundred percent wrong, one hundred percent destructive? – that it did far more harm than good, and still does? And this bizarre idea of helping the country by training the “security forces” – only a career general could have come up with that one. The “security forces” are soldiers of fortune, almost by definition. They will never provide security for everyone equally, because they will be controlled by the imams.

And finally, just as America can never tolerate violence by extremists, we must never alter or forget our principles. Nine-eleven was an enormous trauma to our country. The fear and anger that it provoked was understandable, but in some cases, it led us to act contrary to our traditions and our ideals. We are taking concrete actions to change course. I have unequivocally prohibited the use of torture by the United States, and I have ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed by early next year. (Applause.)

So America will defend itself, respectful of the sovereignty of nations and the rule of law. And we will do so in partnership with Muslim communities which are also threatened. The sooner the extremists are isolated and unwelcome in Muslim communities, the sooner we will all be safer.

Amen! Let’s do that in Christian countries, too!

The second major source of tension that we need to discuss is the situation between Israelis, Palestinians and the Arab world.

America’s strong bonds with Israel are well known. This bond is unbreakable. It is based upon cultural and historical ties, and the recognition that the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied.

Around the world, the Jewish people were persecuted for centuries, and anti-Semitism in Europe culminated in an unprecedented Holocaust. Tomorrow, I will visit Buchenwald, which was part of a network of camps where Jews were enslaved, tortured, shot and gassed to death by the Third Reich. Six million Jews were killed — more than the entire Jewish population of Israel today. Denying that fact is baseless, it is ignorant, and it is hateful. Threatening Israel with destruction — or repeating vile stereotypes about Jews — is deeply wrong, and only serves to evoke in the minds of Israelis this most painful of memories while preventing the peace that the people of this region deserve.

On the other hand, it is also undeniable that the Palestinian people — Muslims and Christians — have suffered in pursuit of a homeland. For more than 60 years they’ve endured the pain of dislocation. Many wait in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, and neighboring lands for a life of peace and security that they have never been able to lead. They endure the daily humiliations — large and small — that come with occupation. So let there be no doubt: The situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable. And America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own. (Applause.)

For decades then, there has been a stalemate: two peoples with legitimate aspirations, each with a painful history that makes compromise elusive.

Two peoples? The Palestinians are a tribe, with ethnic (geographical) roots. Judaism is a religion. The link between the nation of Israel and the faith of the Jews is conceptual and literary – quite unlike the connection between the Palestinians and the land that has been called Palestine for 2,000 years.

It’s easy to point fingers — for Palestinians to point to the displacement brought about by Israel’s founding, and for Israelis to point to the constant hostility and attacks throughout its history from within its borders as well as beyond. But if we see this conflict only from one side or the other, then we will be blind to the truth: The only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met through two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security. (Applause.)

That is in Israel’s interest, Palestine’s interest, America’s interest, and the world’s interest. And that is why I intend to personally pursue this outcome with all the patience and dedication that the task requires. (Applause.) The obligations — the obligations that the parties have agreed to under the road map are clear. For peace to come, it is time for them — and all of us — to live up to our responsibilities.

Palestinians must abandon violence. Resistance through violence and killing is wrong and it does not succeed. For centuries, black people in America suffered the lash of the whip as slaves and the humiliation of segregation. But it was not violence that won full and equal rights. It was a peaceful and determined insistence upon the ideals at the center of America’s founding. This same story can be told by people from South Africa to South Asia; from Eastern Europe to Indonesia. It’s a story with a simple truth: that violence is a dead end. It is a sign neither of courage nor power to shoot rockets at sleeping children, or to blow up old women on a bus. That’s not how moral authority is claimed; that’s how it is surrendered.

I very much like this use of Arabic-flavored insults. I sincerely believe that one of the key ways to combat violence is with ridicule.

Now is the time for Palestinians to focus on what they can build. The Palestinian Authority must develop its capacity to govern, with institutions that serve the needs of its people. Hamas does have support among some Palestinians, but they also have to recognize they have responsibilities. To play a role in fulfilling Palestinian aspirations, to unify the Palestinian people, Hamas must put an end to violence, recognize past agreements, recognize Israel’s right to exist.

At the same time, Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel’s right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine’s. The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. (Applause.) This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop. (Applause.)

And Israel must also live up to its obligation to ensure that Palestinians can live and work and develop their society. Just as it devastates Palestinian families, the continuing humanitarian crisis in Gaza does not serve Israel’s security; neither does the continuing lack of opportunity in the West Bank. Progress in the daily lives of the Palestinian people must be a critical part of a road to peace, and Israel must take concrete steps to enable such progress.

And finally, the Arab states must recognize that the Arab Peace Initiative was an important beginning, but not the end of their responsibilities. The Arab-Israeli conflict should no longer be used to distract the people of Arab nations from other problems. Instead, it must be a cause for action to help the Palestinian people develop the institutions that will sustain their state, to recognize Israel’s legitimacy, and to choose progress over a self-defeating focus on the past.

America will align our policies with those who pursue peace, and we will say in public what we say in private to Israelis and Palestinians and Arabs. (Applause.) We cannot impose peace. But privately, many Muslims recognize that Israel will not go away. Likewise, many Israelis recognize the need for a Palestinian state. It is time for us to act on what everyone knows to be true.

What an interesting paragraph. What a provocative thing to say. Who else would say this? Obama makes rhetorical gestures I have never seen before. I am serious.

Too many tears have been shed. Too much blood has been shed. All of us have a responsibility to work for the day when the mothers of Israelis and Palestinians can see their children grow up without fear; when the Holy Land of the three great faiths is the place of peace that God intended it to be; when Jerusalem is a secure and lasting home for Jews and Christians and Muslims, and a place for all of the children of Abraham to mingle peacefully together as in the story of Isra — (applause) — as in the story of Isra, when Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed, peace be upon them, joined in prayer. (Applause.)

This is a brilliant image with which to close out the topic of Israel.

The third source of tension is our shared interest in the rights and responsibilities of nations on nuclear weapons.

This issue has been a source of tension between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran. For many years, Iran has defined itself in part by its opposition to my country, and there is in fact a tumultuous history between us. In the middle of the Cold War, the United States played a role in the overthrow of a democratically elected Iranian government. Since the Islamic Revolution, Iran has played a role in acts of hostage-taking and violence against U.S. troops and civilians. This history is well known. Rather than remain trapped in the past, I’ve made it clear to Iran’s leaders and people that my country is prepared to move forward. The question now is not what Iran is against, but rather what future it wants to build.

I recognize it will be hard to overcome decades of mistrust, but we will proceed with courage, rectitude, and resolve. There will be many issues to discuss between our two countries, and we are willing to move forward without preconditions on the basis of mutual respect. But it is clear to all concerned that when it comes to nuclear weapons, we have reached a decisive point. This is not simply about America’s interests. It’s about preventing a nuclear arms race in the Middle East that could lead this region and the world down a hugely dangerous path.

I understand those who protest that some countries have weapons that others do not. No single nation should pick and choose which nation holds nuclear weapons. And that’s why I strongly reaffirmed America’s commitment to seek a world in which no nations hold nuclear weapons. (Applause.) And any nation — including Iran — should have the right to access peaceful nuclear power if it complies with its responsibilities under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. That commitment is at the core of the treaty, and it must be kept for all who fully abide by it. And I’m hopeful that all countries in the region can share in this goal.

The fourth issue that I will address is democracy. (Applause.)

I know — I know there has been controversy about the promotion of democracy in recent years, and much of this controversy is connected to the war in Iraq. So let me be clear: No system of government can or should be imposed by one nation by any other.

That does not lessen my commitment, however, to governments that reflect the will of the people. Each nation gives life to this principle in its own way, grounded in the traditions of its own people. America does not presume to know what is best for everyone, just as we would not presume to pick the outcome of a peaceful election. But I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn’t steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. These are not just American ideas; they are human rights. And that is why we will support them everywhere. (Applause.)

Now, there is no straight line to realize this promise. But this much is clear: Governments that protect these rights are ultimately more stable, successful and secure. Suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away. America respects the right of all peaceful and law-abiding voices to be heard around the world, even if we disagree with them. And we will welcome all elected, peaceful governments — provided they govern with respect for all their people.

This last point is important because there are some who advocate for democracy only when they’re out of power; once in power, they are ruthless in suppressing the rights of others. (Applause.) So no matter where it takes hold, government of the people and by the people sets a single standard for all who would hold power: You must maintain your power through consent, not coercion; you must respect the rights of minorities, and participate with a spirit of tolerance and compromise; you must place the interests of your people and the legitimate workings of the political process above your party. Without these ingredients, elections alone do not make true democracy.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Barack Obama, we love you!

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thank you. (Applause.) The fifth issue that we must address together is religious freedom.

Islam has a proud tradition of tolerance.

No, it does not. Tolerance has a tradition of tolerance. Islam has a tradition of Islam.

We see it in the history of Andalusia and Cordoba during the Inquisition. I saw it firsthand as a child in Indonesia, where devout Christians worshiped freely in an overwhelmingly Muslim country. That is the spirit we need today. People in every country should be free to choose and live their faith based upon the persuasion of the mind and the heart and the soul. This tolerance is essential for religion to thrive, but it’s being challenged in many different ways.

Tolerance? You forgot to mention, Mr. President, that people need to be tolerant of atheists, too. And atheists have no religion with which to bash other people over the head. We invented tolerance.

Among some Muslims, there’s a disturbing tendency to measure one’s own faith by the rejection of somebody else’s faith. The richness of religious diversity must be upheld — whether it is for Maronites in Lebanon or the Copts in Egypt. (Applause.) And if we are being honest, fault lines must be closed among Muslims, as well, as the divisions between Sunni and Shia have led to tragic violence, particularly in Iraq.

Freedom of religion is central to the ability of peoples to live together.

You forgot to mention freedom from religion.

We must always examine the ways in which we protect it. For instance, in the United States, rules on charitable giving have made it harder for Muslims to fulfill their religious obligation. That’s why I’m committed to working with American Muslims to ensure that they can fulfill zakat.

I don’t get this. Muslims can already deduct their charitable donations to the same extent that I can. What else do they want?

Likewise, it is important for Western countries to avoid impeding Muslim citizens from practicing religion as they see fit — for instance, by dictating what clothes a Muslim woman should wear. We can’t disguise hostility towards any religion behind the pretence of liberalism.

No, Mr. President. Western countries do not dictate, liberalism does not dictate what clothes a Muslim woman should wear. That’s what her husband is doing. And hostility toward his pitiless repression of her is perfectly appropriate.

In fact, faith should bring us together.

How could that ever happen? This is an absurd fantasy.

And that’s why we’re forging service projects in America to bring together Christians, Muslims, and Jews. That’s why we welcome efforts like Saudi Arabian King Abdullah’s interfaith dialogue and Turkey’s leadership in the Alliance of Civilizations. Around the world, we can turn dialogue into interfaith service, so bridges between peoples lead to action — whether it is combating malaria in Africa, or providing relief after a natural disaster.

Apparently, it’s safe to assume that people who don’t practice any religion at all are not interested in humanitarian projects.

The sixth issue — the sixth issue that I want to address is women’s rights. (Applause.) I know –- I know — and you can tell from this audience, that there is a healthy debate about this issue. I reject the view of some in the West that a woman who chooses to cover her hair is somehow less equal, but I do believe that a woman who is denied an education is denied equality. (Applause.) And it is no coincidence that countries where women are well educated are far more likely to be prosperous.

Nice carrot-instead-of-stick point.

Now, let me be clear: Issues of women’s equality are by no means simply an issue for Islam. In Turkey, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, we’ve seen Muslim-majority countries elect a woman to lead. Meanwhile, the struggle for women’s equality continues in many aspects of American life, and in countries around the world.

I am convinced that our daughters can contribute just as much to society as our sons. (Applause.) Our common prosperity will be advanced by allowing all humanity — men and women — to reach their full potential. I do not believe that women must make the same choices as men in order to be equal, and I respect those women who choose to live their lives in traditional roles.

But how many of them choose this? Not many, because the “traditional roles” amount to slavery.

But it should be their choice. And that is why the United States will partner with any Muslim-majority country to support expanded literacy for girls, and to help young women pursue employment through micro-financing that helps people live their dreams. (Applause.)

Finally, I want to discuss economic development and opportunity.

I know that for many, the face of globalization is contradictory. The Internet and television can bring knowledge and information, but also offensive sexuality and mindless violence into the home. Trade can bring new wealth and opportunities, but also huge disruptions and change in communities. In all nations — including America — this change can bring fear. Fear that because of modernity we lose control over our economic choices, our politics, and most importantly our identities — those things we most cherish about our communities, our families, our traditions, and our faith.

But I also know that human progress cannot be denied. There need not be contradictions between development and tradition. Countries like Japan and South Korea grew their economies enormously while maintaining distinct cultures. The same is true for the astonishing progress within Muslim-majority countries from Kuala Lumpur to Dubai. In ancient times and in our times, Muslim communities have been at the forefront of innovation and education.

And this is important because no development strategy can be based only upon what comes out of the ground, nor can it be sustained while young people are out of work. Many Gulf states have enjoyed great wealth as a consequence of oil, and some are beginning to focus it on broader development. But all of us must recognize that education and innovation will be the currency of the 21st century — (applause) — and in too many Muslim communities, there remains underinvestment in these areas. I’m emphasizing such investment within my own country. And while America in the past has focused on oil and gas when it comes to this part of the world, we now seek a broader engagement.

On education, we will expand exchange programs, and increase scholarships, like the one that brought my father to America. (Applause.) At the same time, we will encourage more Americans to study in Muslim communities. And we will match promising Muslim students with internships in America; invest in online learning for teachers and children around the world; and create a new online network, so a young person in Kansas can communicate instantly with a young person in Cairo.

On economic development, we will create a new corps of business volunteers to partner with counterparts in Muslim-majority countries. And I will host a Summit on Entrepreneurship this year to identify how we can deepen ties between business leaders, foundations and social entrepreneurs in the United States and Muslim communities around the world.

On science and technology, we will launch a new fund to support technological development in Muslim-majority countries, and to help transfer ideas to the marketplace so they can create more jobs. We’ll open centers of scientific excellence in Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia, and appoint new science envoys to collaborate on programs that develop new sources of energy, create green jobs, digitize records, clean water, grow new crops. Today I’m announcing a new global effort with the Organization of the Islamic Conference to eradicate polio. And we will also expand partnerships with Muslim communities to promote child and maternal health.

All these things must be done in partnership. Americans are ready to join with citizens and governments; community organizations, religious leaders, and businesses in Muslim communities around the world to help our people pursue a better life.

The issues that I have described will not be easy to address. But we have a responsibility to join together on behalf of the world that we seek — a world where extremists no longer threaten our people, and American troops have come home; a world where Israelis and Palestinians are each secure in a state of their own, and nuclear energy is used for peaceful purposes; a world where governments serve their citizens, and the rights of all God’s children are respected. Those are mutual interests. That is the world we seek. But we can only achieve it together.

I know there are many — Muslim and non-Muslim — who question whether we can forge this new beginning. Some are eager to stoke the flames of division, and to stand in the way of progress. Some suggest that it isn’t worth the effort — that we are fated to disagree, and civilizations are doomed to clash. Many more are simply skeptical that real change can occur. There’s so much fear, so much mistrust that has built up over the years. But if we choose to be bound by the past, we will never move forward. And I want to particularly say this to young people of every faith, in every country — you, more than anyone, have the ability to reimagine the world, to remake this world.

All of us share this world for but a brief moment in time. The question is whether we spend that time focused on what pushes us apart, or whether we commit ourselves to an effort — a sustained effort — to find common ground, to focus on the future we seek for our children, and to respect the dignity of all human beings.

It’s easier to start wars than to end them. It’s easier to blame others than to look inward. It’s easier to see what is different about someone than to find the things we share. But we should choose the right path, not just the easy path. There’s one rule that lies at the heart of every religion — that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. (Applause.) This truth transcends nations and peoples — a belief that isn’t new; that isn’t black or white or brown; that isn’t Christian or Muslim or Jew. It’s a belief that pulsed in the cradle of civilization, and that still beats in the hearts of billions around the world. It’s a faith in other people, and it’s what brought me here today.

The Golden Rule does not reside “at the heart of every religion.” It is infinitely better than religion. If we internalized the Golden Rule we would eventually notice that religion gives no support to this principle, except in the form of lip service – as if just saying the words is a great help to one’s community! – so eventually we would abandon religion.

We have the power to make the world we seek, but only if we have the courage to make a new beginning, keeping in mind what has been written.

The Holy Koran tells us: “O mankind! We have created you male and a female; and we have made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another.”

The Talmud tells us: “The whole of the Torah is for the purpose of promoting peace.”

The Holy Bible tells us: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” (Applause.)

Such great books – you can find anything you want to in there!

The people of the world can live together in peace. We know that is God’s vision. Now that must be our work here on Earth.

Thank you. And may God’s peace be upon you. Thank you very much. Thank you. (Applause.)


Hillary Clinton said yesterday:

The way to continue our fight now – to accomplish the goals for which we stand – is to take our energy, our passion, our strength and do all we can to help elect Barack Obama the next President of the United States.

Today, as I suspend my campaign, I congratulate him on the victory he has won and the extraordinary race he has run. I endorse him, and throw my full support behind him. And I ask all of you to join me in working as hard for Barack Obama as you have for me.

The wording strikes me as peculiar. “I endorse him, and throw my full support behind him.” You endorse him… when?

Oh, you mean you did, just then. That was it–when you said, “I endorse him”–that was the endorsement. I guess that makes sense. It just seems awfully formal, as if you’re reporting on the activities of some committee rather then yourself. Couldn’t you have said it in plain English, instead of legalese? Something like this:

“My campaign ends here. But my work, our work, is not done. We must not let up. From now on I am working to elect Barack Obama, and I urge everyone who has been working on my campaign to do the same. Senator Obama! Congratulations! I respect you, I admire you, and I very much want you to be the next President of the United States!”