WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Monday called on Americans to stand up against religious bigotry as he offered his support to the families of those killed in shootings at two Jewish community centers in the Kansas City area.
“Nobody should have to worry about their security when gathering with their fellow believers,” Obama told religious leaders at the White House for the annual Easter prayer breakfast. “No one should ever have to fear for their safety when they go to pray. And as a government, we’re going to provide whatever assistance is needed to support the investigation.”
Obama noted that he had a connection to two of the victims. A teenager and his grandfather, shot in a parking lot behind the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City, attended the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection, Obama said. That church’s pastor, Rev. Adam Hamilton, delivered the sermon at the prayer service at the National Cathedral marking Obama’s second inauguration and attended last year’s prayer breakfast at the White House. Hamilton broke the news to his congregation at the Palm Sunday service, the president said.
“That this occurred now, as Jews were preparing to celebrate Passover, as Christians were observing Palm Sunday, makes this tragedy all the more painful,” Obama said.
Police have arrested Frazier Glenn Miller, 73, in connection with the shooting. Civil rights advocates say Miller has ties to the Ku Klux Klan and a long history of espousing hate against Jews, among others. Police say they do not believe that the shooter knew his victims.
Obama called on the religious leaders to “keep coming together across faiths to combat the ignorance and intolerance, including anti-Semitism, that can lead to hatred and to violence.”
“This Easter week, of course, we recognize that there’s a lot of pain and a lot of sin and a lot of tragedy in this world, but we’re also overwhelmed by the grace of an awesome God,” he said. “We’re all children of God, we’re all made his image, all worthy of his love and dignity, and we see what happens around the world when this kind of religious-based or -tinged violence can rear its ugly head. It’s got no place in our society.”
Obama mentioned his recent trip to Vatican City, where he met for the first time with Pope Francis. Obama, who is not Catholic, has said he is inspired by the pope and praised his focus on inequality and inclusion in the church.
The president urged the religious leaders to mind the message coming out of Rome.
“He implores us to see the inherent dignity in each human being. But it’s also his deeds, simple yet profound, hugging the homeless man or washing the feet of somebody who, normally, ordinary folks would just pass by on the street. He reminds us that all of us, no matter what our station, have an obligation to live righteously and that we all have an obligation to live humbly, because that’s, in fact, the example that we profess to follow.”