A little over one week after President Obama’s controversial rebuke of “segregated schools, Catholics and evangelical Protestants alike continue to criticize what they see as the president’s meddling in religious affairs. Obama’s speech during the G8 summit in Northern Ireland implied that private religious education was one of the chief factors in perpetuating the long-running unrest of the nation.
In front of an audience of about 2,000 young people that included many Catholics, the president contended that Catholic education divides people and blocks peace. “If towns remain divided—if Catholics have their schools and buildings and Protestants have theirs, if we can’t see ourselves in one another and fear or resentment are allowed to harden—that too encourages division and discourages cooperation,” Obama said.
Catholics in Ireland were quick to respond to the assertions, making what one Catholic paper called “an alarming call for an end to Catholic education,” which is “a critical component of the Church.” Criticism in the U.S. has proven much sharper in its assessment of the president’s view of the impact of religious education on civic life. Consider this statement from American Catholics for Religious Freedom:
President Obama’s anti-faith, secular agenda was shamefully on full display yesterday when he told the young people of Northern Ireland that Catholic education and other faith-based schools were divisive and an obstacle to peace. All Americans of faith should be outraged by these comments which clearly telegraph the president’s belief system and are in fact at their core, even anti-American.
While the use of the term “segregated” may appear to be mere semantics, astute commentators note that term is more than problematic when speaking of private religious education. Obama’s direct implication is that religious schools foster division and are incubators of “fear or resentment.” Use of the term “segregated” paints a picture of forced inferior education for one group and superior education for another. The word is intentionally charged and intended to inflame.
An editorial in the Scottish Catholic Observer was scathing in its reaction to the speech, noting that the word ‘segregated’ is generally used to refer to “an enforced separation of people based on racial or ethnic differences, rather than a choice by families and religious communities to educate children according to their own faith.” The Scottish Catholic Observer continued in its criticism:
The U.S. president’s “unfounded claim” came only two days after a top Vatican official had praised the work of Catholic schools in a speech in Glasgow, Scotland. During a lecture at Glasgow University, Archbishop Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, said Catholic education brings “intellectual training, moral discipline, and religious commitment” together. During Mass the previous evening, the archbishop called Catholic schools “a critical component of the Church,” providing Catholic youth the opportunity to “grow up with Jesus.”
More than one American observer has noted the president’s remarks across the Atlantic are part of a larger strategy to ostracize Christian and Jewish organizations in the United States. ObamaCare has unleashed a tidal wave of government infringement on what were once considered rights protected for religions institutions. Even the military has become a pawn in Obama’s determination to stigmatize evangelicals and other religious groups. U.S. Army Reserve training materials, based on a report by the left-wing Southern Poverty Law Center, labeled Catholicism, evangelical Christianity, and the Jewish Defense League as examples of extremism in a long list that included the Ku Klux Klan and the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt.
“His call for an end to separate Protestant and Catholic educational institutions does not generate widespread public approval,” wrote former North Carolina congressional candidate Bill Randall in Sunday’s Washington Times. “Obama’s comments would have caused less consternation if he’d been looking in his own American back yard and made a conscious effort to mend the divisions he and his administration have caused.”
Randall also observed: “It is not the president’s place to lecture another nation on religious liberty and religious divisions within its borders. The best thing that he can do for religious liberty and peaceful relations between faiths in the rest of the world is to set an example in the United States.”
Fr. John Zuhlsdorf , Fr. Z’s blog, is even more direct:
Another example of what this man wants: total isolation of any religious values in the private sphere alone. Pres. Obama is working either to intimidate or legislate or even TAX religious freedom out of the public square. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of a foreign visit to a Islamic nation where he told people on his arrival that they shouldn’t have madrasas. Can you? Did he when visiting, say, Israel, say “You Jews shouldn’t have synagogue schools and you muslims shouldn’t have mosque schools.” I can’t remember. Did he?
No, Fr. Zuhlsdorf , he did not.