President Obama warned against "using religion as a bludgeon in politics," pushing back against critics who have accused him of waging a "war on religion" through recent policy decisions.
Obama said it's a problem when religion is used "to divide, instead of bring the country together" in an interview that aired Monday on Iowa TV.
"When we start using religion as a bludgeon in politics, we start questioning other people's faith, we start using religion to divide, instead of bring the country together, then I think we've got a problem," Obama told Des Moines's local NBC affiliate, Who TV.
Obama was responding to recent accusations that he is engaged in a "war on religion" through recent actions such as the contraception mandate. Faith communities protested the White House's decision to require employers to provide contraception as part of their health insurance coverage, and the GOP presidential candidates decried the president as hostile to religious freedom.
Under an “accommodation” offered by the White House, religiously affiliated entities will not have to offer birth control, though their employees will be able to get it through their employer’s insurer without a co-pay. Critics, though, say the revision still infringes on religious liberty.
Obama also pushed back on people who are "questioning other people's faith" as an example of using religion to divide. Obama's personal Christianity has been questioned repeatedly, most recently by well-known evangelical minister Franklin Graham.
“He’s come out saying he’s a Christian, so I think the question is, ‘What is a Christian?’ ” Graham said on MSNBC last month.
Graham later apologized.
But Obama might have answered Graham's question when discussing the so-called "war on religion" with Iowa TV.
"I find this very puzzling, because my first job, my first real job out of college, was working with churches in lower-income communities, trying to make sure that the social gospel was made real, that people were getting help," Obama said, referring to his work as a community organizer on Chicago's south side.