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President Obama used the National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday to declare freedom of religion a major part of American foreign policy.

Saying countries that assure religious freedom tend to be more peaceful, Obama told a bipartisan crowd that "freedom of religion matters to our national security."

The president said that he and his administration have raised the issue in meetings with China, Burma, and Middle East and African nations that restrict worship.

"All around the world, freedom of religion is under threat," Obama said, and protecting that freedom is "a key objective of U.S. foreign policy."

The president called for the release of missionaries who are imprisoned in North Korea and Iran. He also criticized armed conflicts involving religion, saying that "the killing of innocents is never fulfilling God's will."

Obama has spoken every year of his presidency at the National Prayer Breakfast, a bipartisan event that began in the early 1950s.