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How faith leaders responded to Obama's seventh state of the union address
Faith leaders joined many other commentators and shared their reactions to President Obama's State of the Union address this week. - photo by Kelsey Dallas
Faith leaders, like politicians and people in the nonprofit sector, critiqued President Barack Obama's final State of the Union speech Tuesday night, noting his special message for American Muslims and how his policy goals might affect religious groups.

"We welcome President Obama's strong rejection of Islamophobic rhetoric in politics," said Nihad Awad, national executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, to Religion News Service. "America is made stronger because of its religious and ethnic diversity."

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, shared a more negative reaction with RNS, saying, "President Obama's faith in Washington is far greater than his faith in the American people. He calls for national unity in the same breath that he lauds same-sex marriage the single most divisive Supreme Court decision since Roe vs. Wade."

Beyond the unsurprising "God Bless the United States of America" at the end of the speech, Obama reflected on religious themes while discussing the recent uptick in violence against Muslim Americans.

"When politicians insult Muslims, when a mosque is vandalized, or a kid bullied, that doesn't make us safer. That's not telling it like it is. It's just wrong. It diminishes us in the eyes of the world," he said.

In this section of the address, the president also mentioned the pope's September visit to the U.S., during which he addressed Congress.

Obama said, "His Holiness, Pope Francis, told this body from the very spot I stand tonight that 'to imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place.'"

Peter Manseau, author of "One Nation Under Gods: A New American History," questioned whether the president's commitment to fostering interfaith understanding has made a difference during his two terms.

"While the president has made peace with religious differences in his own life, much of the country remains unwilling to do the same. As he begins the final chapter of the story he has been telling about the meaning (of) America these past seven years, listing the many faiths that called the United States home is not enough," Manseau wrote in a column for The Washington Post.

Obama didn't win over atheists, either. The Twitter accounts for two of America's largest nonreligious groups also engaged with the president's address, tweeting about members' frustration with Obama's references to God.

"Very strong ending, President Obama. Until 'God bless you, and God bless America.' Sigh," tweeted the American Humanist Association.

Earlier in the day, American Atheists asked, "When speaking about religious diversity, will (the president) explicitly say the word 'atheist?' There are 30+ million of us."
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