President Barack Obama pointedly affirmed his belief that freedom of religion is central to human dignity during his address at the National Prayer Breakfast Thursday in Washington, D.C.
Referring to human rights violations seen in nations around the globe, Obama proclaimed that "freedom of religion matters to our national security" and said the U.S. will always stand on the side of those seeking personal liberty, regardless of where they reside.
President Barack Obama speaks during the National Prayer Breakfast at the Washington Hilton February 6, 2014 in Washington, D.C. (Pool/Getty Images)
History, Obama said, has shown that countries that "hold up the rights of their people" are usually more successful; those that do not, he said, breed anger and violence.
"We sometimes see religion twisted ... hatred [is waged] against people because of who they are, or how they pray, or who they love," he said. "[Extremists] don't understand the faiths they claim to profess. The killing of the innocent is never fulfilling God's will. In fact, it's the ultimate betrayal of God's will."
Specifically speaking about American Christians being held by foreign nations, Obama pledged to do everything he can to secure the release of Kenneth Bae, who has been held in North Korea for 15 months, and Pastor Saeed Abedini, who has been detained in Iran for more than a year.
"The United States will continue to do everything in our power to secure his release because Kenneth Bae," Obama said, later adding, "Today, we call on the Iranian government to release Pastor Abedini."
Obama also pledged to oppose blasphemy laws and other similar measures in foreign nations that he said "can be used to suppress religious minorities."
President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama talk during the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014. (AP/Charles Dharapak)
At the start of the speech, Obama noted that the National Prayer Breakfast is an opportunity for politicians of all stripes to gather together and to put aside party labels to recall that they are "all children of a loving God."
"In this work, as Lincoln said, our concern should not be whether God is on our side, but whether we are on his side," the president proclaimed.
Obama referred to his own journey to Chicago earlier in his life, and said his work with churches there to help alleviate poverty set his life on course.
"It led me to embrace Jesus Christ as my Lord and savior," he said.
Related: TheBlaze's Laurie Dhue reveals how God and faith saved her life