A short piece in today’s Washington Post examines President Obama’s religious faith. The occasion of the article is the President’s remarks today to the National Prayer Breakfast, an annual event held at this time of year in the capital. Interestingly, the article does not attempt to distinguish among the usages of prayer in the life of the Commander in Chief — whether he prays for strength or fortitude or policy guidance or just a peaceful day. In fact, the Post reports, President Obama consults religious tradition and teaching for insights into issues of governance:
“[C]lose advisers to the president said the role of faith, while subtle, has been noticeable in and around the Obama White House. One senior official described the president as “a prayerful guy.” Another said that Obama has consulted religious leaders less often for his own personal guidance than for help walking through major public decisions — such as during the Afghanistan review process, when he sought advice on the ethical implications of war.”
The impact of religious discourse on the foundations and evolution of just war doctrines is undeniable, and it has been a constraining force on the decisions of leaders who bear weighty responsibilities. American presidents have acted in similar ways, and openly discussed their spiritual reflections on public acts, throughout American history. In doing so, they carried on the political and social philosophy of the Founders.
Meanwhile, however, on the opposite coast from Washington, D.C., lawyers in a San Francisco courtroom have spent the last few weeks trying to establish that a public policy in favor of traditional marriage supported by voters with even a tinge of religious reflection is perforce unconstitutional.
Followed to its logical conclusion, that view would lead courts to constitutionally invalidate a host of public policy determinations on everything from capital punishment to climate change,
and on both sides of any number of issues where religious institutions or ideas play a role. As a wise Supreme Court Justice famously wrote, courts that go down this road will be “very busy indeed.”