U.S. President Barack Obama says America and the world need to tap the power of faith to unite people and provide for the common good.  Mr. Obama says he will bring clergy and secular leaders together in a joint effort to help communities around the country.

President Obama has taken numerous actions in his first weeks in office to rescind the policies of his predecessor, George Bush.  But there is one area in which they are in agreement: the importance of faith in American life.

Mr. Obama is keeping the faith-based initiative launched by President Bush - although under a slightly different name - which was set up to assist community programs run by religious institutions.

"Instead of driving us apart, our varied beliefs can bring us together to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, comfort the afflicted; to make peace where there is strife and rebuild what has broken," he said.

The president says he is sensitive to critics who fear bringing clergy into a White House-based office jeopardizes the constitutional separation of church and state. 

"The goal of this office will not be to favor one religious group over another - or even religious groups over secular groups.  It will simply be to work on behalf of those organizations that want to work on behalf of our communities, and to do so without blurring the line that our founders wisely drew between church and state," he said.

Mr. Obama spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast, an annual event in Washington that brings together government, business, clergy and community leaders from around the world.

The president said far too often, faith is used as an excuse for prejudice, intolerance, and war.  He said while different religions read different texts, and follow different edicts, there are common truths.

"No matter what we choose to believe, let us remember that that is no religion whose central tenet is hate.  There is no God who condones taking the life of an innocent human being.  This much we know," he said.

He reminded the audience that all the world's major religions share one overriding value.

"It is, of course, the Golden Rule - the call to love one another, to understand one another, to treat with dignity and respect those with whom we share a brief moment on this earth," he said.

The gathering also heard from former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the Middle East envoy for the so-called quartet - the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia.  He said faith motivates billions to help others.

"You can see it in the arousing of the world's conscience to the plight of Africans.  There are a million good deeds done everyday by people of faith," he said.

In addition to his work in the Middle East, Blair heads a foundation that aims to promote understanding and reconciliation among the world's major religions.