Obama Prods Nations on Religious Freedom

Speaking at the annual National Prayer Breakfast this morning, President Obama vowed to promote religious freedom around the world, arguing that "freedom of religion matters to our national security."

"Around the world freedom of religion is under threat," he told the non-denominational gathering of political leaders. "We see governments engaging in discrimination and violence against the faith. We sometimes see religion twisted in an attempt to justify hatred and persecution against other people just because of who they are, how they pray or who they love."

"History shows that nations that uphold the rights of their people, including the freedom of religion, are ultimately more just and more peaceful and more successful. Nations that do not uphold these rights sow the bitter seeds of instability and violence and extremism," he said.

The president said that in meetings he has urged the leaders of China, Burma, Nigeria, and others, to protect the rights of religious minorities.

"I've made the case that no society can truly succeed unless it guarantees the rights of all of its peoples," he said. "So promoting religious freedom is a key objective of U.S. foreign policy."

Obama went on to call for the release of prisoners being held for their religious beliefs, including Kenneth Bae, the Christian missionary being held in North Korea, and Pastor Saeed Abedini, who is imprisoned in Iran.

"As we pray for all prisoners of conscience, whatever their faiths, wherever they're held, let's imagine what it must be like for them. We may not know their names, but all around the world there are people who are waking up in cold cells, facing another day of confinement, another day of unspeakable treatment, simply because they are affirming God," he said. "Despite all they've endured, despite all the awful punishments if caught, they will wait for that moment when the guards aren't looking and when they can close their eyes and bring their hands together and pray."

Reflecting on his own faith, the president noted that the event is a chance to put aside party labels and "recall what we are first: all children of a loving God, brothers and sisters called to make his work our own."

"Here we give thanks for his guidance in our own individual faith journeys. In my life he directed my path to Chicago and my work with churches who are intent on breaking the cycle of poverty in hard-hit communities there. And I'm grateful not only because I was broke and the church fed me, but because it led to everything else," he said.