WASHINGTON (RNS) Addressing poverty. Seeking reconciliation. Protecting religious freedom. Religious leaders already have their wish lists ready for President Obama's second term. Here are 11 officials' thoughts about what they’d like to see in the next four years. Some responses have been edited for length and clarity:
Nathan Diament, director of public policy for the Orthodox Union
One week before Election Day, Hurricane Sandy devastated many communities in the Northeast. What President Obama has seen firsthand is those who are suffering and need support and recovery are being helped by government agencies, but that would not be enough without the many charities large and small who are providing refuge and relief to those displaced. This is the best case for why the first wish is for the president to "do no harm" to America's charitable sector and not propose a cut to the tax deduction for people's contributions to charities.
Second, while he continue to work on improving the economy of today, President Obama must lay the foundation of American success for the future - and that is best done when every American child enjoys great educational opportunity. In his first term, he pushed some education reform through his "Race to the Top" program. He needs to do more, and more aggressively. Parents are the best people to choose the education that suits their children - and we need policies that empower them to make those choices.
In the campaign, President Obama restated his commitment to thwarting Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons which would allow it to threaten Israel, the U.S. and the world. This effort must be brought to a successful conclusion.
Salam Al-Marayati, president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council
It's an opportunity to build on the foundation built the last four years, one of engagement and more inclusion of American Muslims in policy-making, both on the domestic and international fronts. Key issues will be bolstering partnerships with law enforcement for national security, working within faith-based government programs, and building bridges with the Muslim world that will help the U.S. navigate new frontiers of democracy and old battlegrounds of violent extremism.
Kathryn Mary Lohre, president of the National Council of Churches
As followers of Christ, we hope and work for a world in which people have nutritious food to eat, safe water to drink, affordable places to live, access to quality medical care, and opportunities for fulfilling work. Recent figures show that more than one in seven Americans – and one in five children – are living in poverty. President Obama, we now join others in calling you to account for this commitment ... to adopt and implement bold policies that will provide for “the least of these” (Matthew 25), addressing the root causes of poverty, and creating life-giving vocational opportunities. Eradicating poverty is a moral issue. As we join you in partnership, we will join you also in prayer.
The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference
President Obama's re-election offers an opportunity for the gifted motivator to convert rhetoric into action. My prayer is that our president advances an agenda that protects life, strengthens the family, protects religious liberty, while globally advocating for religious pluralism, especially in Muslim nations. In addition, I pray that our president engages his Christian optics in the spirit of reconciliation for the purpose of healing our nation. This will require him to provide not just political but moral leadership that refuses to sacrifice truth on the altar of political expediency. Let President Obama re-emerge with the spirit of his 2004 keynote address at the Democratic National Convention, resulting in a collective understanding that the kingdom of God is not red state or blue state, Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative but righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost.
Sister Mary Ann Walsh, spokeswoman, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops hopes the 2013-2016 Presidential administration:
- Will back legislation that protects the vulnerable, including infants in utero or the elderly in their waning days on earth and everyone in between.
- Will support efforts to help immigrants seeking refuge and citizenship in America.
- Addresses the problem of the widespread poverty that stands as blight upon our nation.
- Recognizes the need to show support for religious liberty, a concern of many different religious groups.
- Supports legislation on the institution of marriage that guarantees a child’s right to be raised in a loving home by a caring mother and father.
- Works to restore civility in dialogue and bipartisanship in government so all Americans can work as one for the spiritual and material health of our country and our world.
The Rev. Carroll A. Baltimore Sr., president of the Progressive National Baptist Convention
It is my sincere desire that President Obama will lead in addressing the issues of poverty and its long-term effects on our entire society. We rarely hear the term "poverty." It's a very revealing term and other words have been substituted to remove the reality and responsibility that we have to deal with poverty. Over the past decades, we have cut critical social and educational programs that have plummeted countless children and adults into poverty. The economic implications of poverty are felt globally, and really need to be addressed on an international scale. We need to enact policies and practices that lift people out of poverty. The religious community, and other entities are doing a great deal to help, but our policies and laws need to be revisited. It is impossible to secure the future of our children under these circumstances. As we claim to be the wealthiest nation in the world, my desire is that President Obama will lead the way in bringing other global leaders together and develop global policies and practices that will alleviate the staggering number of children and adults experiencing abject poverty.
Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission
The people have spoken. Now the really difficult battles are about to begin. Our nation is in dire need of sound, principled leadership. I submit the following requests, which I believe are essential to the future stability and prosperity of our nation:
- Defend the sanctity of all human life from conception to natural death in all laws and all medical programs, government and private;
- Respect and protect religious freedom and freedom of conscience for all Americans in any medical delivery and health insurance programs;
- Defend the sanctity of marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman in federal and state law;
- Forge a bipartisan program to cut the national debt and stimulate economic growth;
- Lead a bipartisan effort to bring about significant, meaningful, fair, and just immigration reform;
- Unequivocally support Israel’s right to exist within secure and defensible borders and her right not to be threatened with nuclear annihilation by the genocidal regime in Tehran;
- Lead a national bipartisan effort to reduce the impact of hardcore pornography and to eliminate the sex trafficking for which pornography produces the consumer demand.
Clearly, this would be an ambitious agenda. Yet I believe the American people are ready and would help advance each of those goals. We are ready for principled leadership. I commit to pray that God will enable President Obama to lead us to real, God-honoring solutions that will make a significant impact toward us becoming a more moral, more unified people.
The Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World
This election is the first step in what we are hoping will be a strong U.S. commitment to ending hunger -- both domestically and globally. For more than a year, Christian leaders have come together to advocate for the formation of a “Circle of Protection” around funding for programs that are vital to hungry and poor people. As people of faith, it is now our responsibility to hold our newly elected president accountable for taking a stance against hunger and poverty.
There is more than enough food to feed the more than 7 billion people around the world, yet hunger and poverty persist on a large scale, even in the United States. Finding solutions to these issues will require the dedication of all leaders -- whether they be Republicans or Democrats. As the new president takes his oath of office, we want him to lead the way in ending hunger at home and abroad. During his four-year term, we expect the president to set a goal to end hunger while ensuring that we do not balance the federal budget on the backs of hungry and poor people.
Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals
Most campaign speeches end with the words “God bless the United States of America.” I believe God has blessed our nation and my number one prayer and hope for the president over the next four years is that God will continue to bless America under his leadership. My desire is that President Obama and his administration will bring Americans together in peace without a national crisis and will fulfill the vision of the Old Testament prophet Micah: “And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations
I would like to see a president committed to continued American leadership in the defense of civil liberties. The president should work with Congress to end indefinite detention without trial of citizens and others. The president should also lead a vocal campaign in opposition to anti-Islam legislation that is sweeping the nation. And I think it is time we found out why some American citizens, almost exclusively Muslim, are being denied the fundamental right to return to their country.
My "wish list" for the White House:
- Repeal the indefinite detention provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act.
- Work to pass both the End Racial Profiling Act and Safe Schools Improvement Act.
- Close the Guantanamo Bay detention center and end the unconstitutional practice of prolonged detention outside of our nation's justice system.
- Reassess the nation's CIA/military drone strike program that has led to civilian deaths in Pakistan (now being expanded to the Horn of Africa) and harmed America's image and interests.
- Reassess the nation's policy of assassinating American citizens overseas.
- End the questioning of Muslims at the U.S. border about their faith and religious observances.
- Reassess the nation's policy of preventing some American Muslim citizens from returning home after overseas travels.
- Review the nation's Watch List program to make it easier for individuals wrongly placed on the list to have their names removed.
- End the CIA's relationship with the New York Police Department to spy on American Muslims.
Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism
Someday, a president may take the oath of office and find himself with a prospering nation, budget surpluses and a world at peace. Jan. 20, 2013 will not be that day. Instead, the newly inaugurated president will face a host of challenges at home and abroad. The voices of people of faith “speaking truth to power” as the president decides how to meet those challenges will be more vital than ever.
During the campaign, discussion of our responsibilities to provide a safety net to the poor were alarmingly absent. Our voices must be raised on behalf of Americans struggling to recover from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, even as some misguidedly call for weakening parts of that safety net from food stamps to Medicaid to Social Security.
It is unlikely that we will quickly find consensus on gay marriage; allowing states to continue to make their own decisions is the right course to follow at this time. But until the past few years, there was significant Republican support for a law that would ban employment discrimination because of sexual orientation or gender identity. A concerted effort for passage now could attract the support of those Republican legislators determined to heal some of our nation's wounds.
So, too, on immigration. Actions must be taken to address the plight of undocumented immigrants who too often live in the shadows even as they contribute to and are a vital part of the fabric of our communities, including implementation of the Dream Act provisions the first Obama administration began. The results of this election reflect the need for both parties to address the needs of the Latino community more assertively than they have before.
We must look beyond our borders as well, with priorities including: reinvigorating your efforts to achieve peace between Israel and the Palestinians -- so vital to the U.S. and to the interests of both parties there, acting more assertively in support of the security and well-being of the besieged civilians in Syria, supporting religious freedom as a universal norm and addressing global warming before that crisis spins out of control.
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