President Obama addressed the annual National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday, pledging the U.S. will stand firm against threats to religious freedom -- and rebuking by name countries like China and North Korea.
Obama said he has felt the power of faith in places as far flung as the Holy Land, a mosque in Istanbul and a Buddhist temple in Bangkok. But he added, it's "clear that around the world, freedom of religion is under threat."
He noted in various parts of the world, the faithful are experiencing violence and religion is being twisted to justify persecution.
He said that in meetings with leaders of China, Burma, Nigeria and other nations, he stresses the importance of human rights, including religious freedom.
“No society can truly succeed unless it guarantees the rights of all its people, including religious minorities,” he said.
He called for the release of religious prisoners worldwide, including Kenneth Bae, who is being held in North Korea.
“As we pray for all prisoners of conscience, whatever their faiths, let’s imagine what it must be like for them,” he said.” All around world people waking up in cold cells…facing unspeakable treatment” because of their faith.
“I hope that somehow they hear our prayers for them,” Obama said.
Obama noted he was looking forward to meeting next month with Pope Francis, whose message, he said, "is one that I hope all of us heed."
Rajiv Shah, the administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, delivered the keynote address, urging attendeees to work toward ending extreme poverty.
First Lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden joined the president at the breakfast, which was attended by guests from 130 nations – including Bujar Nishani, the president of Albania, and Michel Martelly, the president of Haiti -- who is to meet with Obama later today at the White House.
Other guests at the head table with the Obamas included Sens. Robert Casey (D-Pa.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Obama's former Transportation Secretary, Ray LaHood, and gospel singer Yolanda Adams.
Rep. Louie Gohmert – a Texas Republican and one of the president’s most colorful critics – co-chaired the breakfast, along with Rep. Janice Hahn, D-Calif.