President Barack Obama arrived in Baltimore Wednesday morning for his first visit to a U.S. mosque since his election. He was expected to take a stand for the constitutional right of religious freedom amid a wave of anti-Muslim hate crimes in recent months.
Obama was set to be part of a roundtable at the Islamic Society of Baltimore at 10:40 and then deliver remarks at 12:05 p.m. EST. His noon remarks will be live-streamed on the White House's website. It can also be viewed below.
“This is an opportunity in the eyes of the president to send a clear signal to the Muslim-American community that the president of the United States is going to firmly defend your right in this country to worship God consistent with your tradition and your heritage,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said, ABC News reported. “That is a founding principle of our democracy. It is part of what makes America the greatest country in the world, and it’s unfortunate ... some people might perceive our commitment to those values cheapened by cynical political tactics from some Republicans.”
Many have said that a rise in anti-Muslim sentiment in recent months has been fueled by controversial statements made by Republican presidential contenders. The visit comes several months after Donald Trump said he supported a temporary ban of all Muslims from entering the U.S. Many Americans, both Democrats and Republicans, condemned Trump’s statement and said they went against American ideals. At the same time, a debate has raged over the U.S. policy to accept Syrian refugees, as a number of Republican politicians have said thousands of asylum-seekers would not be welcomed in their states.
Although Wednesday’s mosque visit marked Obama’s first trip to a Muslim house of worship in the U.S., he has visited a number of mosques overseas as president, including in Turkey, Egypt and Indonesia. Obama has routinely defended Islam from those who claim it is a religion of violence, and has emphasized the importance of Muslims tackling extremism.