US President Barack Obama on Tuesday called for religious tolerance across the world, stating that upholding freedom of faith is not only the responsibility of the government but also the responsibility of every citizen.
“Our nations are strongest when we see we are all god’s children: we are equal in his eyes and worthy of his love. Across our two great countries, we have Hindus and Muslims, Christians and Sikhs, Jews and Buddhists and Jains and so many faiths. We remember the wisdom of Gandhi ji who said ‘for me, people of different religions are like beautiful flowers from the same garden’. They are branches of the same majestic tree,” President Obama said, while addressing a gathering at the Siri Fort auditorium in the national capital.
“Our freedom of religion is written into our founding documents. It is part of America’s very first amendment. Your Article 25 says that all people are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right to freely profess, propagate and practice religion. In both our countries, in all countries, upholding this fundamental freedom is not only the responsibility of the government but also the responsibility of every person,” he added.
Speaking of his own experiences with religion, President Obama recalled the Wisconsin Gurdwara shootings of 2012, while driving home the point that every person has the right to practice their faith.
“In our lives, Michelle and I have been strengthened by our Christian faith. But there have been times when my faith has been questioned by people who don’t know me. Or they say that I adhere to a different religion, as if somehow that was a bad thing. Around the world we have seen intolerance and violence and terror perpetrated by those who profess to be standing up for their faith but are in fact betraying it,” he said.
“No society is immune from the darkest impulses of man, and too often, religion has been used to tap into those darker impulses as opposed to the light of god. Three years ago, in our state of Wisconsin, a man went into a Sikh temple and in a terrible act of violence killed six people – Americans and Indians. In that moment our sheer grief, our two countries reaffirmed a basic truth, as we must again today: that every person has the right to practice their faith they choose, or to practice no faith at all, and to do so free of persecution and fear and discrimination,” he added.
President Obama further stated that India will remain a strong, powerful country, as long as it remains united.
“The peace we seek in the world begins in human hearts, and finds its glorious expression when we look beyond any differences in religion or tribe and rejoice in the beauty of every soul. And nowhere is that more important than in India. India will succeed so long as it is not splintered along the lines of religious faith, so long as it is not splintered along any lines, and is unified as one nation,” he said.
“It is when all Indians, whatever your faith, go to the movies and applaud Shah Rukh Khan; or celebrate athletes like Milkha Singh or Mary Kom; and every Indian can take pride in the courage of a humanitarian who liberates boys and forced labour and exploitation like Kailash Satyarthi. This is what unifies us,” he added.
President Obama, who was on a three-day visit of India, concluded his trip later in the day. During the trip, he became the first US president to attend the Republic Day celebrations and the first president to visit India twice while still in office.