President Barack Obama says freedom of religion matters to U.S. national security, and promoting religious freedom abroad is a key part in the country's foreign policy.
Obama spoke Thursday at the annual National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, saying anyone who harms someone in the name of faith diminishes their relationship with God.
"Around the world, freedom of religion is under threat, and that is what I want to reflect on this morning," the president told the audience. "We see governments engaging in discriminating and violence against the faith. We sometimes see religion twisted in an attempt to justify hatred and persecution against other people just because of who they are, how they pray, or who they love."
He asked the audience to pray for those held captive for their religious beliefs, including Kenneth Bae, held in North Korea, and Saeed Abedini, held in Iran.
Vice President Joe Biden and first lady Michelle Obama also attended the event to honor their Christian faith. The National Prayer Breakfast is hosted by members of the Senate and House of Representatives who meet each week for prayer on Capitol Hill.
Every U.S. president has attended the event since it began in 1953.
Guests of the annual event have come from some 130 countries, and the guest list often includes foreign dignitaries and celebrities. Mother Teresa, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and musician Bono have all attended the event.