President Obama declared Thursday that “around the world, freedom of religion is under threat,” using remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast to urge governments not to stifle how their citizens choose to worship.
“We see governments engaging in discrimination, violence against the faith, sometimes see religion twisted in an attempt to justify hatred, persecution against other people just because of who they are, how they pray and who they love,” Obama said at the annual event attended by a group of bipartisan leaders and religious figures.
Obama also focused on the plight of U.S. citizens being held captive overseas simply for spreading their religious beliefs.
“We pray for Kenneth Bae,” Obama said of the U.S. Christian missionary sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in North Korea. "Kenneth Bae deserves to be free."
Some conservatives have called on the Obama administration to be more proactive in securing Bae’s release from North Korea.
The prayer breakfast this year was drama-free for the White House. In 2013, former neurosurgeon Ben Carson ripped Obamacare while sharing the stage with the president.
With his latest remarks, Obama said the U.S. government would lead the charge for religious rights, noting that American officials had pursued the cause, even though it made talks with nations such as China potentially awkward.
“It is not always comfortable to do, but it is right,” the president said.
And Obama framed such sentiment as a matter of safekeeping for U.S. interests, saying countries lacking religious freedoms were more likely to become breeding grounds for violence.
“Freedom of religion,” he concluded, “matters to our national security.”