President Barack Obama spoke Thursday about religious freedom as a key component of United States foreign policy at the National Prayer Breakfast, noting that freedom of religion is central to human dignity.
"Today we profess the principles we know to be true," he said. "We know 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."
The United States leads the world in promoting religious freedom, which is one of the main foreign policy goals of the United States, Obama declared.
"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."
Some of the reasons to promote religious freedom abroad, Obama explained, include the benefits nations receive when they protect the religious freedom of their citizens. This, in turn, helps U.S. national security.
"History shows," he said, "that nations that uphold the rights of their people, including freedom of religion, are ultimately more just, more peaceful and more successful. Nations that do not uphold these rights, sow the bitters seeds of instability and violence and extremism. So freedom of religion matters to our national security."
Nations that do not protect religious freedom, he added, will not be successful: "No society can truly succeed unless it guarantees the rights of all of its peoples, including religious minorities."
In some cases, Obama declared, protecting religious freedom means opposing blasphemy and defamation laws, which are sometimes passed in the name of religious freedom.
"We will keep standing for religious freedom around the world. That includes, by the way, opposing blasphemy and defamation of religion measures, which are promoted sometimes as an expression of religion, but in fact, can all too often be used to suppress religious minorities," he said.
Obama also spoke about prisoners of conscience, or those who are imprisoned for their beliefs, around the world. He said his administration will do "everything in our power to secure" the release of Kenneth Bae, a Christian missionary being held in North Korea, and he called on the Iranian government to release Saeed Abedini, an American pastor, "so he can return to the loving arms of his wife and children in Idaho."
Obama began the speech talking about his own Christian faith journey. He began attending churches in Chicago as part of an effort to address poverty, he recalled, which led him to the Christian faith.
"I'm grateful not only because I'm broke and the Church fed me," he said, "but because it led me to everything else. It led me to embrace Jesus Christ as my lord and savior."