Former president Barack Obama and Sen. Kamala Harris both spoke on the importance of values and faith during the Democratic National Convention Wednesday night, but did not address policies that challenge the religious liberties of Catholics and other believers.
Obama, who spoke first Aug. 19, used his speech to stress the obligations of the presidency to protect all people, and to endorse former vice president Joe Biden’s campaign to unseat President Donald Trump.
Biden, Obama said, “made me a better president -- and he's got the character and the experience to make us a better country.”
According to the former president, Trump has “shown no interest in putting in the work; no interest in finding common ground; no interest in using the awesome power of his office to help anyone but himself and his friends; no interest in treating the presidency as anything but one more reality show that he can use to get the attention he craves.”
“At minimum, we should expect a president to feel a sense of responsibility for the safety and welfare of all 330 million of us--regardless of what we look like, how we worship, who we love, how much money we have--or who we voted for,” said Obama.
Obama lamented that “Irish and Italians and Asians and Latinos told to go back where they came from. Jews and Catholics, Muslims and Sikhs, made to feel suspect for the way they worshipped.”
The 44th president’s call to protect freedom of worship stood in contrast to several policies initiated during his two terms in office.
In 2012, numerous Catholic and Christian groups, including the religious order the Little Sisters of the Poor, filed suit against the Obama administration, alleging that their religious freedom was violated by the contraception mandate that was added to the Affordable Care Act. The Supreme Court ruled in their favor in June 2014 in the case Burwell v. Hobby Lobby.
The Supreme Court once again ruled in favor of the Little Sisters of the Poor in 2020. Following that decision, Biden, a Catholic, pledged to remove their court-ordered exemption if he is elected president.
In his speech Wednesday, Obama credited past generations who experienced discrimination and hardship as examples of perseverence and belief in American ideals and values.
“And yet, instead of giving up, they joined together and said somehow, some way, we are going to make this work,” he said. “We are going to bring those words, in our founding documents, to life.”
During Obama’s presidency, the IRS improperly audited dozens of conservative organizations, and issued an apology in 2017 for its use of "heightened scrutiny and inordinate delays" to those organizations.
Also on Wednesday, Sen. Kamala Harris formally accepted her nomination as candidate for vice president, to close the third night of the virtual DNC.
Harris said her mother, who immigrated to the United States from India, the values she lives by and remains committed to.
“To the Word that teaches me to walk by faith, and not by sight. And to a vision passed on through generations of Americans--one that Joe Biden shares,” she said. “A vision of our nation as a beloved community, where we all are welcome, no matter what we look like, where we come from, or who we love.”
This vision, said Harris, is of, “a country where we may not agree on every detail, but we are united by the fundamental belief that every human being is of infinite worth, deserving of compassion, dignity and respect.”
Harris, who supports federal funding for abortion, was sued by pro-life pregnancy centers in 2015 after she, as California’s attorney general, sponsored a law that required pregnancy centers to provide information about where to acquire an abortion. The law was struck down.
“Make no mistake, the road ahead will not be not easy. We will stumble. We may fall short. But I pledge to you that we will act boldly and deal with our challenges honestly. We will speak truths. And we will act with the same faith in you that we ask you to place in us,” Harris said.
“We believe that our country—all of us, will stand together for a better future. We already are.”