WASHINGTON, Feb. 6 (UPI) -- U.S. President Barack Obama warned Thursday of the risks nations face when they fail to uphold religious freedom.
Obama, addressing a crowd of about 3,500 gathered Thursday morning at the 62nd National Prayer Breakfast at the Washington Hilton, said the annual breakfast offers an opportunity to "set aside the rush of our daily lives, to pause with humility before an almighty God, to seek his grace and mindful of our own imperfections,"
He urged participants to "put aside labels of party and ideology and [be] what we are first, children of a loving God."
"Our concern should not be whether God is on our side, but whether we are on God's side," he said.
Obama said he has felt the power of faith in the Holy Land, a mosque in Istanbul and a temple in Bangkok, but warned that freedom of religion is under threat in many parts of the world.
Nations that fail to uphold religious freedom and other human rights "sow the bitter seeds" of violence and extremism, he said. It is a message he stresses in meeting with leaders from China, Burma, Nigeria and other nation.
"No society can truly succeed unless it guarantees the rights of all its people, including religious minorities," he said.
Obama also said the United States "will continue to stand against the ugly tide of anti-Semitism," he added.
The president concluded his speech by calling for the freedom of religious prisoners.
"As we pray for all prisoners of conscience, whatever their faiths, let's imagine what it must be like for them," he said." All around world people waking up in cold cells ... facing unspeakable treatment" because of their faith. "I hope that somehow they hear our prayers for them," Obama said.
International guests included Bujar Nishani, the president of Albania, and Michel Martelly, the president of Haiti.