Obama Paints Himself as Champion of Religious Freedom at National Prayer Breakfast

President Obama used his address at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington this morning to highlight that it's "clear that around the world freedom of religion is under threat," claiming that his administration is helping save the day.

"We see governments engaging in discrimination and violence against the faithful. We sometimes see religion twisted in an attempt to justify hatred and persecution against other people just because of who they are, or how they pray or who they love. Old tensions are stoked, fueling conflicts along religious lines, as we’ve seen in the Central African Republic recently, even though to harm anyone in the name of faith is to diminish our own relationship with God. Extremists succumb to an ignorant nihilism that shows they don’t understand the faiths they claim to profess -- for the killing of the innocent is never fulfilling God’s will; in fact, it’s the ultimate betrayal of God’s will," Obama said at the Washington Hilton event.

"Today, we profess the principles we know to be true. We believe that each of us is 'wonderfully made' in the image of God. We, therefore, believe in the inherent dignity of every human being -- dignity that no earthly power can take away. And central to that dignity is freedom of religion -- the right of every person to practice their faith how they choose, to change their faith if they choose, or to practice no faith at all, and to do this free from persecution and fear," he continued.

"Our faith teaches us that in the face of suffering, we can’t stand idly by and that we must be that Good Samaritan. In Isaiah, we’re told 'to do right. Seek justice. Defend the oppressed.' The Torah commands: 'Know the feelings of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt.' The Koran instructs: 'Stand out firmly for justice.' So 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.  So freedom of religion matters to our national security."

Obama conceded that his administration deals with governments that "don’t always meet our highest standards, but they’re working with us on core interests such as the security of the American people."

"At the same time, we also deeply believe that it’s in our interest, even with our partners, sometimes with our friends, to stand up for universal human rights. So promoting religious freedom is a key objective of U.S. foreign policy. And I’m proud that no nation on Earth does more to stand up for the freedom of religion around the world than the United States of America," the president said.

"It is not always comfortable to do, but it is right. When I meet with Chinese leaders -- and we do a lot of business with the Chinese, and that relationship is extraordinarily important not just to our two countries but to the world -- but I stress that realizing China’s potential rests on upholding universal rights, including for Christians, and Tibetan Buddhists, and Uighur Muslims. When I meet with the President of Burma, a country that is trying to emerge out of a long darkness into the light of a representative government, I’ve said that Burma’s return to the international community depends on respecting basic freedoms, including for Christians and Muslims. I’ve pledged our support to the people of Nigeria, who deserve to worship in their churches and mosques in peace, free from terror. I’ve put the weight of my office behind the efforts to protect the people of Sudan and South Sudan, including religious minorities."

He brought up the Middle East peace talks, stressing "we’ve made clear that lasting peace will require freedom of worship and access to holy sites for all faiths."

"More broadly, I’ve made the case that no society can truly succeed unless it guarantees the rights of all its peoples, including religious minorities, whether they’re Ahmadiyya Muslims in Pakistan, or Baha’i in Iran, or Coptic Christians in Egypt.  And in Syria, it means ensuring a place for all people -- Alawites and Sunni, Shia and Christian," Obama said.

"Going forward, we will keep standing for religious freedom around the world. And that includes, by the way, opposing blasphemy and defamation of religion measures, which are promoted sometimes as an expression of religion, but, in fact, all too often can be used to suppress religious minorities. We continue to stand for the rights of all people to practice their faiths in peace and in freedom. And we will continue to stand against the ugly tide of anti-Semitism that rears it's ugly head all too often."