WH: Obama Plans to Discuss 'Religious Freedom' and His Own Faith While Visiting Md. Mosque

By Susan Jones | February 2, 2016 | 8:43 AM EST

President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama visit the Istiqlal Mosque in Jakarta, Indonesia, guided by Grand Imam Ali Mustafa Yaqub, in November 2010. (AP File Photo)

(CNSNews.com) - In this final year of his presidency, Barack Obama will make his first-ever visit to a mosque in the United States on Wednesday.

"The president is certainly looking forward to his trip to the Islamic Society of Baltimore," White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters on Monday.  

"It will be an opportunity for the president to celebrate the contributions that Muslim-Americans have made to our nation, but to also reaffirm the importance that religious freedom has to our way of life."

It also will be an opportunity for Obama "to talk about the role that faith plays even in his own life."

The White House anticipates that Obama's mosque visit will be "rather conspicuous." Earnest said he expects some people "to criticize the president for doing it. But all of that, I think, will serve to elevate a debate that the president believes is worth having."

Donald Trump and other Republicans have called for a pause in Muslim immigration to the United States until national security concerns can be addressed, and Earnest indicated that this is another reason for the president's visit.

"[I]t has, unfortunately, infected our political debate in a way that doesn't reflect the values that are so central to the founding of our country. And so I think this would be an appropriate venue for the president to make clear that Muslim Americans make a valuable contribution to the success of our country and that the protections that allow Muslim Americans to worship God according to their traditions in this country are sacrosanct and that no one, whether they're a political candidate or not, should feel like it is acceptable to somehow put those religious freedoms at risk."

Obama's visit to a Baltimore County mosque on Wednesday follows his visit to the Israeli embassy last week. On Thursday, he plans to attend the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington.

"So, you know, I think this sort of fits in the constellation of events the president is doing to talk about religious liberty and to talk about the role that faith plays in our public debate. I think it will also be an opportunity for the president to talk about the role that faith plays even in his own life," Earnest said.

Earnest said the Islamic Society of Baltimore "represents the diversity of the Muslim population in America. And hopefully that will be evident from the audience that the president speaks to. But we will have more on why this mosque chosen as the president prepares for his visit."

Obama has visited several mosques overseas, and  in the first year of his presidency, he went to Cairo to "seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world, one based on mutual interest and mutual respect, and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive and need not be in competition."

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