Friday News Roundup: Diwali in the (White) House

NEWSA few weeks ago we wrote about Obama’s Ramadan celebration at the White House. This week, President Obama continued his practice of publicly celebrating the world’s religious traditions with Diwali, the Hindu festival of light. Also, an atheist ad appears on New York subways.

This week, Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and some Buddhists celebrated Diwali, the Indian festival of lights; and President Obama was right there with them. On October 14th, Obama became the first American President to officially observe the holiday. Once again, he underscored religion’s message of tolerance, justice and good works.

“This coming Saturday, Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and some Buddhists, here in America and around the world, will celebrate this holiday by lighting Diyas, or lamps, which symbolize the victory of light over darkness, and knowledge over ignorance. And while this is a time of rejoicing, it’s also a time for reflection, when we remember those who are less fortunate and renew our commitment to reach out to those in need. While the significance of the holiday for each faith varies, all of them mark it by gathering with family members to pray and decorate the house and enjoy delicious food and sweet treats. And in that spirit of celebration and contemplation, I am happy to light the White House Diya, and wish you all a Happy Diwali, and a Saal Mubarak”  (Washington Times reports).

He also used the occasion to sign an executive order re-establishing the president’s advisory committee and White House initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, first established by President Bill Clinton and extended by President Bush until 2007.

Watch President Obama’s Diwali message.

Since being elected, President Obama has made a point to talk about religion. And when he speaks about different faiths, he purposely includes nonbelievers in the discussion. In his inauguration speech, he said “We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and nonbelievers.” This is a smart move. According to a study released by PEW, the number of unaffiliated Americans is steadily increasing.

Which brings us to our other big story of the week: next Monday, a coalition of local groups will run a month long advertising campaign in a dozen Manhattan subway stations with the slogan “A Million New Yorkers Are Good Without God. Are You?” (New York Times reports).

The coalition hopes the promotion will enhance awareness of New York City’s secular community. Michael De Dora Jr., executive director of the New York Center for Inquiry, one of the associated atheist groups explained that the coalition also hopes to encourage “talking and thinking about religion and morality,” as well as support involvement in groups that encourage a sense of a social community for non-believing New Yorkers (CNN reports).

This is not the first time an atheist group has run ads in the United States; in August, atheist ads appeared on buses in Iowa. We’ll see if this trend continues.

And one more story that’s making headlines: the Vatican is making it easier for Anglicans to convert to Roman Catholicism, (The Associated Press, Los Angeles Times and USA Today report).