President Obama used Friday’s National Prayer Breakfast to call for the release of American faith leaders who are imprisoned abroad.
“No society can truly succeed unless it guarantees the rights of all its people, including religious minorities,” Obama said.
Obama said religious freedom is a cornerstone of successful societies. He said that through interfaith dialogue and a stronger emphasis on protecting religious freedoms, many international conflicts could be resolved.
“Nations that uphold the rights of their people, including the freedom of religion, are ultimately more just and more peaceful and more successful,” Obama said.
The president also credited faith with nurturing his personal success, and that of the nation.
“Religion strengthens America,” Obama said. “Brave men and women of faith have challenged our conscious and brought us closer to our ideals.”
This year’s prayer breakfast — the continuation of a tradition that dates back more than half a century — had considerably fewer fireworks than last year, when former Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon Ben Carson used his remarks to rail against “moral decay and fiscal irresponsibility.”
The remarks, which also featured Carson criticizing political correctness, the deficit, taxes and ObamaCare, launched the doctor into national prominence and spurred speculation he could launch a political career.
On Thursday, the keynote speech was delivered by USAID Director Rajiv Shah, who pressed leaders to “focus relentlessly on data, accountability, and results” in foreign aid efforts.
“Those who lead our great nation will need to make tough decisions that keep us committed to this mission and continue our nation’s proud history as the world’s humanitarian leader,” Shah said.
The breakfast was organized by Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) and Rep. Janice Hahn (D-Calif.), who poked fun at their partisan differences as they officiated the event. Hahn joked that “sometimes you have to dig deep” to understand fellow worshippers, pointing to when Gohmert railed against Americans who allegedly bought crab legs with food stamps.
“For all you know it was imitation crab,” Hahn said.
Gohmert, for his part, quipped that his religious background had prepared him well for the “backstabbing” in Washington.
“I was the deacon of a Baptist Church,” he said.
Obama thanked the leaders, and said despite their partisan differences, he had “always found Louie to be unbelievably gracious every time I see him.”
“Now — I don’t watch TV,” he added, drawing a laugh from the crowd.