President Obama pledged to continue promoting freedom of religion worldwide and called for the release of prisoners of conscience at the National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday.

“History shows that nations that uphold the rights of their people, including the freedom of religion, are ultimately more just and more peaceful, and more successful,” Obama said. “Nations that do not uphold these rights sow the bitter seeds of instability and violence and extremism, so freedom of religion matters to our national security.”

Obama reaffirmed the United States’ global human rights efforts, noting that “promoting religious freedom is a key objective of U.S. foreign policy, and I’m proud that no nation on earth does more to stand up for the freedom of religion around the world than the United States of America.”

The president called for the release of Americans persecuted for their Christian faith in other nations, including missionary Kenneth Bae, “who’s been held in North Korea for 15 months,” and Pastor Saeed Abedini, “imprisoned in Iran for over 18 months.”

But although Obama rightly called for the release of Bae and Abedini,  Heritage Foundation experts say,  actions by his administration have threatened the religious liberty of Americans here in the United States. They note that the HHS mandate under Obamacare, in particular, forces employers to provide coverage of abortion-inducing drugs and contraception  regardless of their religious objections.

“This coercive mandate poses a serious threat to Americans’ fundamental freedom,” Heritage policy analyst  Sarah Torre told The Foundry. “Charities like Little Sisters of the Poor shouldn’t be forced to violate their beliefs – the very faith that motivates them to serve in the first place – in order to continue caring for the least of these.”

“We’re grateful for President Obama’s remarks,” said the American Center for Law and Justice, the organization representing Abedini’s family. “President Obama raised the issue of Pastor Saeed in a private phone call with Iran’s President Rouhani last fall but today’s comments mark the first time that President Obama has publicly addressed Pastor Saeed’s plight.”

Jennifer A. Marshall, director of Heritage’s DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society, has written  that “religion defines the worldview of many whom U.S. policy seeks to influence.” With that in mind,  she argues that America should adopt a public diplomacy strategy that “include[s] efforts to reach these audiences by better explaining the role of religious freedom and practice in America and by integrating this into the overall promotion of freedom around the world.”

“Our faith teaches us that in the face of suffering, we can’t stand idly by,” Obama said during his speech. Commenting on the imprisonment of Bae and Abedini, he said, “I believe their unbroken souls are made stronger and I hope that somehow they hear our prayers for them, that they know that along with the spirit of God, they have our spirit with them as well, and that they are not alone.”

This story was produced by The Foundry’s news team. Nothing here should be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of The Heritage Foundation.