Secular Politicians touting the goodness of Islam?

When I was in high school, our school was sued by the ACLU because each Monday a student would pray over the intercom.  This was deemed by the ACLU an unacceptable promotion of religion as such by an arm of the government, and the court agreed.  It has come to be accepted orthodoxy in our legal circles that government organizations or representatives should not favor or promote one religion over another, or over non-religion.  So this raises the interesting question asked in THIS ARTICLE at The Economist blog:

"SHOULD democratically elected leaders in more or less secular countries ever say that this or that religion is essentially good or essentially bad?"  

Are they not acting as theologians when they claim that Islam is a good and beautiful and peace-affirming faith?  Are they not promoting one religion over another?  I've never heard our President make such sweeping positive claims about United Methodism - though I would be happy if he did.  Could it be that they do not trust the general public to think for ourselves and come up with the "right" decision regarding the relative merits of Islam?  Here are a few more quotes from the article:

"In the immediate aftermath of the 9/11, arguments about the fundamental nature of Islam caused some acrimony between George W Bush and his evangelical supporters. The Bush administration's line was that Islam as such was not the adversary. On the contrary, it was worthy of respect as a great and inspiring religious tradition in which millions of people found comfort....
Meanwhile Tony Blair went through a phase of carrying a Koran around with him, and arguing passionately that Islam in its truest self was an inspiration to peace and altruism. He seemed convinced that his own passionate Christian beliefs gave him some insight into the problem of scriptural interpretation. A few days ago, it was Barack Obama's turn to make a solemn distinction between Islam itself and people who claimed to be waging a terrorist war in its name. In a speech to the UN General Assembly, he said:The United States is not and never will be at war with Islam. Islam teaches peace. Muslims all over the world aspire to live with dignity and a sense of justice...

The article goes on to raise the issue - always an important one in any theological statement or statement about theology - of authority or credibility.  Presidents Bush and Obama and British Prime Minister Tony Blair all claim to be practicing Christians who have never been practicing Muslims.  Do they really know more about Islam than those "Islamic State" militants who have been practicing Muslims all their lives?
As the article states: 

...it is somehow odd for a Western politician to be telling anybody, however horrible and unworthy of respect: "You don't understand your own religion, but I do..." 

Perhaps it would have made more sense for President Obama to point to the recent Open Letter from 120 Muslim scholars denouncing The Islamic State as "un-Islamic."  The problem is that there is disagreement and diversity of opinion among Muslims themselves as to what their religion requires or allows - what Allah desires - when it comes to the use of violence in the name of Islam.  So again we are left with a prickly question about what a supposedly secular leader should do?  Is it appropriate for a President or Prime Minister to promote certain understandings of Islam as actually more faithful to Allah or to "the true spirit of Islam" than others?  Or to swing the question around, would it be appropriate (though it has certainly happened before) for a President or Prime Minister to tell us that either Protestantism or Roman Catholicism was more true to Christ than the other?  

The suggestion at the end of the article actually makes good sense to me:

Almost exactly the same rhetorical effect could have been be achieved if Mr Obama had confined himself to saying something like: "We know that there are hundreds of millions of Muslims in America and across the world who share our abhorrence of Islamic State..."  That would be a statement about political science or religious sociology, rather than theology...

In other news the Islamic State recently destroyed one of Iraq's oldest Christian Churches in its continued campaign of persecution against the followers of Christ.  As a pastor and Bible-teacher rather than a politician, I am quite sure that the Islamic State represents the most viciously evil and demonic political ideology that we have seen since the days of Stalin or Hitler; it is without a doubt "anti-Christ" in its aims and its actions.  

I'll leave it to Muslims (who know far more about the Koran than I) to debate whether the Islamic State is a legitimate expression of Islam.  It seems to me that the great majority of Muslims say that it is not true to Islamic teachings, but a sizable minority obviously believe that it is - which I suppose is what an outside observer would have to say if asked whether any particular Christian denomination is a legitimate expression of Christianity.  

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