WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama, who rarely speaks of his faith, defended some of his administration’s policies Thursday by saying they reflect his religious convictions.
Speaking at the annual National Prayer Breakfast, Obama said his efforts to regulate Wall Street financiers, health insurers and “unscrupulous lenders” reflected in part his belief in “God’s command to ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself.’ ”
“I do so because I genuinely believe (the policies) will make the economy stronger for everybody,” the president said. “But I also do it because I know that far too many neighbors in our country have been hurt and treated unfairly over the last few years.”
He also said that some of his policies stemmed from a “biblical call to care for the least of these: for the poor, for those at the margins of our society.”
“Caring for the poor and those in need. They are values that have always made this country great … and they’re the ones that have defined my own faith journey.”
The president, whose administration came under fire over the weekend from religious groups, including Roman Catholic bishops, for requiring some faith-based employers to include contraceptives in their insurance plans, didn’t address that conflict in his remarks Thursday.
At the White House, spokesman Jay Carney said that no individual would be required to use or prescribe contraception.
“This rule does not force anyone with a religious objection, such as a Catholic doctor, to prescribe or provide contraception,” he said. “It merely requires that insurance companies provide coverage for contraceptives to patients who want them.” He said the policy was a recommendation of the nonpartisan Institute of Medicine.
The president, whose outspoken former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, imperiled his race for the White House in 2008, has largely shied from overt demonstrations of his faith. He and his family haven’t formally joined a congregation in Washington, but they’ve attended services at several churches and at the presidential retreat at Camp David in Maryland.
But Obama offered a glimpse of his spiritual life Thursday, telling the crowd that he says a brief prayer upon waking each morning and spends time “in Scripture and devotion.” He said he prayed “from time to time” in the Oval Office or by phone with several pastors who were present, pointing out Joel Hunter, a spiritual adviser and senior pastor of an Orlando, Fla., megachurch, and Bishop T.D. Jakes, founder and senior pastor of The Potter’s House in Dallas.