Americans are, in large measure, a religious people. Many of our forefathers came to this land to escape religious persecution abroad. Religious freedom is enshrined in our Constitution's First Amendment. A recent poll shows that more than 90 percent of Americans believe in God; 78 percent consider prayer an important part of daily life.
In his inaugural address, President Barack Obama noted that the United States is enriched by the presence of every faith community:
"For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus and non-believers."
This patchwork is the result of the United States' commitment since its founding to religious freedom, and the U.S. looks forward to the day when people everywhere are free to practice their religion, or no religion, without fear of government persecution or discrimination.
In his recent trip overseas, the first since he became President, Mr. Obama sounded a similar theme: the need to build bridges across divides to promote justice and prosperity for all peoples. Speaking before the Turkish parliament, he emphasized, in particular, the willingness of the United States to join with Muslims around the world to achieve that goal:
"We seek broader engagement based on mutual interest and mutual respect. We will listen carefully, we will bridge misunderstandings, and we will seek common ground. We will be respectful, even when we do not agree. We will convey our deep appreciation for the Islamic faith, which has done so much over the centuries to shape the world, including in my own country."
"The United States," said Mr. Obama, "has been enriched by Muslim Americans":
"Many other Americans have Muslims in their families or have lived in a Muslim-majority country. I know, because I am one of them."
"Our focus," said President Obama, "will be on what we can do, in partnership with people across the Muslim world, to advance our common hopes and our common dreams. And when people look back on this time, let it be said of America that we extended the hand of friendship to all people."