WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama on Tuesday urged Americans to "uphold our highest ideals," including the freedom of religion, in the aftermath of the recent terrorist attacks on Paris by the Islamic State group.
"Part of being vigilant, another part of defeating terrorists like ISIL, is upholding the rights and freedoms that define our two great republics," Obama said during a joint press conference with French president Francois Hollande.
"There have been times in our history, in moments of fear, when we have failed to uphold our highest ideals and it has been to our lasting regret," he said. "We must uphold our ideals now. Each of us, all of us, must show that America is strengthened by people of every faith and every background."
Obama's remarks come as GOP presidential candidates are using harsh anti-Muslim rhetoric on the campaign trail, and after House lawmakers voted last week to make it far more difficult for Syrian refugees to gain entry into the United States, for fear that terrorists may try to sneak in with them. The president has vowed to veto any such legislation, saying refugee screening procedures are already extremely rigorous and to turn away people in times of desperation goes against American values.
He pushed that message again on Tuesday, noting that France, even after the Paris attacks, has pledged to accept 30,000 Syrian refugees fleeing terrorist violence.
"On the Statue of Liberty, a gift from the people of France, there are words we know so well: Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free," Obama said. "That's the spirit that makes us America. That's the spirit that binds us to France. That's the spirit we need today."
The president added that he knows people are worried about similar attacks taking place in America, but said that the nation's counterterrorism, homeland security and law enforcement professionals are "tireless" about keeping the country safe.
"They are working every hour, every day, for our security," he said. "They did so before Paris, they do so now, and they will not stop. They are the best in the world."