WASHINGTON, Feb. 4 (UPI) -- U.S. President Barack Obama lamented the "erosion of civility" in Washington Thursday, saying the political atmosphere sows destructive seeds.
"At times, it seems like we're unable to listen to one another; to have at once a serious and civil debate. And this erosion of civility in the public square sows division and distrust among our citizens," Obama told National Prayer Breakfast participants in Washington. "It poisons the well of public opinion. It leaves each side little room to negotiate with the other."
The nation, given power by prayer, needs to "find our way back to civility" starting by "stepping out of our comfort zones in an effort to bridge divisions," Obama said.
Civility also means people can disagree without being disagreeable, he said.
"(Surely) you can question my policies without questioning my faith, or for that matter, my citizenship," Obama said, taking a dig at claims that he is a Muslim and wasn't born in the United States.
Obama said people can disagree about the best way to achieve reforms while recognizing "that we share at some deep level the same dreams."
The networking event has been sponsored by The Fellowship Foundation, which human rights activists accuse of having ties to anti-gay legislation in Uganda. The bill would imprison or execute homosexuals. One member of the limelight-shy organization said at least 30 members expressed their displeasure about the legislation to the Ugandan government.
Obama addressed the controversy during his remarks.
"We may disagree about gay marriage, but surely we can agree that it is unconscionable to target gays and lesbians for who they are -- whether it's here in the United States or, as (Secretary of State) Hillary (Clinton) mentioned, more extremely in odious laws that are being proposed most recently in Uganda."
Obama said faith and prayer can help people find common ground when possible. Prayer can restore, calm or strengthen the human spirit, he said.
Prayer also "can touch our hearts with humility," he said. "It can fill us with a spirit of brotherhood."
Religious and gay rights groups said they organized alternative events in 17 cities, and protesters said they planned to picket in Washington and Boston.