A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Obama and the “Christian Nation” Quote


Q: Did Obama say we "are no longer a Christian nation"?

A: He said we are no longer "just" a Christian nation, but a nation of many other faiths as well. A chain e-mail drops that key word and thus changes the meaning.

FULL QUESTION

Is this true? It is now traveling around the Internet.

U. S. 'no longer a Christian Nation'

As I was listening to a news program last night, I watched in horror as Barack Obama made the statement with pride…'we are no longer a Christian nation; we are now a Nation of Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, . .' [EET ] As with so many other statements I've heard him (and his wife) make, I never thought I'd see the day that I'd hear something like that from a presidential candidate in this nation. To think our forefathers fought and died for the right for our nation to be a Christian Nation–and to have this man say with pride that we are no longer that. How far this nation has come from what our founding fathers intended it to be. I hope that each of you will do what I'm doing now–send your concerns, written simply and sincerely, to the Christians on your email list. With God's help, and He is still in control of this nation and all else, we can show this man and the world in November that we are, indeed, still a Christian nation! [/EET]

 

FULL ANSWER

This is an example of how omitting a single word from an otherwise accurate quote can twist the meaning so completely as to reverse it. Here's what Obama meant to say, during his keynote address to a "Call to Renewal" conference sponsored by the progressive Christian magazine Sojourners two years ago:

 

 

 

Obama, June 28, 2006 (prepared remarks): Given the increasing diversity of America's population, the dangers of sectarianism have never been greater. Whatever we once were, we are no longer just a Christian nation; we are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, a Hindu nation, and a nation of nonbelievers.

 

That quote appears also on Obama's campaign Web site. Unfortunately for Obama, he stumbled just a bit when he delivered the actual quote, as can be seen in this video of his speech, posted on YouTube by the Obama campaign. The way it actually came out was:

Obama, June 28, 2006 (as delivered): Whatever we once were, we are no longer a Christian nation – at least, not just. We are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, and a Hindu nation, and a nation of nonbelievers.

 

That wasn't as smoothly stated as he had intended, but the meaning remains clear to any reasonable person. Saying that the U.S. is not "just" a Christian nation carries the sense that it is both a Christian nation and more: a nation of Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and nonbelievers as well. Furthermore, any survey of religious beliefs held by Americans will show that to be a factually correct statement. However, what the authors of this and similar mass e-mails have chosen to omit is the word "just," converting Obama's factual description of America's diversity of religious beliefs to a statement that some interpret as anti-Christian. This snippet from Obama's two-year-old speech was resurrected June 23 by Fox News, which aired it a number of times. Although the Fox clip retained Obama's awkwardly worded qualification, "at least not just," Fox commentator Sean Hannity said the quote nevertheless showed Obama "seeming to downplay the current role of Christianity in the United States of America." (Hannity also claimed Obama had said the same thing during his 2004 keynote address to the Democratic National Convention, but he was wrong about that. No such words appear there.) The "news program" that the chain e-mail refers to is almost certainly one of the Fox News re-airings of the two-year-old quote. We received our first Ask FactCheck query about it the day after Hannity aired it, but by then the word "just" had gone entirely missing.

Ask FactCheck query, June 24: Did Barack Obama state in a news conference" We are no longer a Christian nation; we are now a nation of Christians,Jews, Muslims, Buddists…"

That was followed by several others, including the version quoted in full above. None included the word "just."

An Organized Effort?

There are indications that the inaccurate version – omitting the word "just" – has been spread in an organized effort to discredit Obama. The news database Nexis contains two letters to the editor that appeared in different states over different signatures, but with words that are nearly identical to the e-mail we quote above. One appeared in the San Angelo (Texas) Standard-Times on July 29. It begins:

Texas Letter to the Editor, July 29: As my husband and I were watching a news program earlier this week, we watched in horror as Barack Obama made the statement with pride …"we are no longer a Christian nation; we are now a nation of Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists."So many other statements made by him (and his wife) were upsetting enough, but I never thought the day would come when we would hear something like that from a presidential candidate in this country.

 

The second version, supposedly from another person in another state, appeared Aug. 3 in the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin in Ontario, Calif. In this version the writer tells of watching the news program alone, not with a spouse, but otherwise it contains strikingly similar wording. It begins:

California Letter to the Editor, Aug. 3: As I was listening to a news program recently, I was horrified when Barack Obama said with pride, "We are no longer a Christian nation. We are now a nation of Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists." I never thought I'd see the day when I'd hear something like that from a presidential candidate in this nation.

 

Public relations campaigns in which boilerplate letters are sent to editors around the country, hoping to get them printed, have been a staple of persuasion campaigns for generations. The Internet has provided a new avenue for such organized efforts. If this is one such effort, it has succeeded. An Internet search for the words "Obama says U.S. no longer a Christian nation" brings up page after page of blog entries and other Web postings repeating the altered Obama quote, without the word "just." And if this is the centrally organized effort that it appears to be, we would like to remind its supposedly Christian organizers of the Ninth Commandment: "Neither shalt thou bear false witness against thy neighbour." Words to live by

-Brooks Jackson

Sources

Obama, Barack. “ ‘Call to Renewal’ Keynote Address.” Obama.senate.gov. Washington, D.C., 28 June 2006.

Obama, Barack. “ ‘Call to Renewal’ Keynote Address.” YouTube. Washington, D.C., 28 June 2006.