Supporters of vouchers and parental choice in education had better take very seriously what President Obama said the other day in Belfast. Indeed, maybe those of us concerned about religious liberty in the U.S.—under under attack from the Health and Human Services Department—should also read with care the president’s words.

These were not off the cuff remarks, as Ed Morissey points out in a compelling post, but were rather in the president’s prepared remarks. Morissey quotes the relevant passage in full, but here are the highlights:

Because issues like segregated schools and housing, lack of jobs and opportunity — symbols of history that are a source of pride for some and pain for others — these are not tangential to peace; they’re essential to it. 

If towns remain divided — if Catholics have their schools and buildings, and Protestants have theirs — if we can’t see ourselves in one another, if fear or resentment are allowed to harden, that encourages division.  It discourages cooperation.

Got that? The president of the United States regards the existence of religious schools as tantamount to the racial segregation of the past. The speech was made in Ireland, where religion and politics mingled in a way that is alien on our shores. But the president isn’t just speaking about Ireland but of his view of the world. His words are ignorant of history, inexcusable, and frighteningly revealing.

Morrisey comments:

Catholics and Protestants have thousands of schools in the U.S., and we don’t have warfare in the streets in the U.S. between the sects.  The issue wasn’t the schools, nor the belief systems of Catholics and Protestants that such schools teach.  However, this makes a handy mechanism to call for the displacement of private education and religious instruction from education, with nothing left except state-controlled schools that indoctrinate children into whatever norms the governing/ruling class deem acceptable.

I can think of one religion the president might be timid about criticizing—no matter what is taught in its schools. But here we’re dealing with the more plain vanilla Protestant and Catholic schools, which have made enormous contributions to this country. But the “Belfast blarney,” as the American Thinker dubs it, shows just what the president, deep down, thinks of this tradition. (Has he forgotten that Harvard and Princeton were founded to educate young men for the clergy?)

Although President Obama is the product of a private education (Punahou Academy, founded by missionaries) and he is providing one for his daughters (Sidwell Friends, founded by the Society of Friends), his administration has worked overtime to prevent other parents from making the same choice for their children—now, thanks to Belfast, we know why.    

Ken Blackwell and Bob Morrison write at the American Thinker:

It is a shocking thing for the President of the United States to show such open hostility to faith-based schooling. As their motto goes, these are "schools you can believe in." And the record of religious schools in America is a great one.

We need to view Mr. Obama's comments in the context of his other policies. His administration is pushing for ever more pre-K programs nationwide. Despite the documented failure of Head Start, he wants to enlist more very young children in school programs that will replace church-based child care and care in the home.

Blackwell and Morrison throw around the M-word (you know, Karl), which is something I would avoid. But they are good on the stunning import of the president’s words in Belfast. Alas, I don’t think it was blarney.