(CNSNews.com) – After two hours of prayer, music, and testimony focusing on Jesus Christ and the importance of the Christian faith in the Latino community, President Barack Obama’s keynote speech at the 2009 National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast referenced Muslims, Hindus and “non-believers” in the first moments of his remarks.
After thanking Esperanza, sponsor of the breakfast and the largest Hispanic faith-based evangelical network in the United States, Obama cited the importance of thanking God and for the country’s Founders’ intention “to protect the freedom of all religion.”
“We can begin by giving thanks for the legacy that allows us to come together,” Obama said at the breakfast on Friday in Washington, D.C. “For it was the genius of America’s Founders to protect the freedom of all religion, and those who practice no religion at all.”
“So as we join in prayer, we remember that this is a nation of Christians and Muslims and Jews and Hindus and non-believers,” Obama said. “It is this freedom that allows faith to flourish within our borders. It is this freedom that makes our nation stronger.”
The Rev. Luis Cortes Jr., founder, president, and CEO of Esperanza, who was named by TIME magazine in 2005 as one of the 25 most influential evangelicals in America, introduced the president.
“Mr. President, our churches and our people pray for you,” Cortes said in introducing Obama. “And we pray for your family. We ask God to protect you and yours from any harm.”
“We pray to God to continue to bless you with wisdom beyond expectation,” Cortes said. “We pray for your legacy, and we pray it will be a legacy to be of peace and love for the least of these.”
Cortes compared Obama to the 16th president of the United States and Abraham Lincoln’s fight to abolish slavery with the more than 12 million people who are in the country illegally.
“That you will be remembered fondly as the Abraham Lincoln of 12 million people who live in the shadows of our country,” Cortes said.
Obama said “comprehensive immigration reform” is part of continuing “the promise of America.”
“Together, we must build a future where the promise of America is kept for a new generation,” Obama said.
“We also know that keeping this promise means upholding America’s tradition as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants,” Obama said. “Those things aren’t contradictory; they’re complementary. That's why I'm committed to passing comprehensive immigration reform as president of the United States.”
Obama said that reform would include a path to citizenship for the millions of illegal aliens.
“We must also clarify the status of millions who are here illegally, many who have put down roots,” Obama said. “For those who wish to become citizens, we should require them to pay a penalty and pay taxes, learn English, go to the back of the line behind those who played by the rules. That is the fair, practical, and promising way forward, and that's what I'm committed to passing as president of the United States.”
Obama also compared the stories of immigrants who came to America for a better life with his pick for the U.S. Supreme Court associate justice, Sonia Sotomayor, who would replace retiring Justice David Souter and become the first Hispanic to serve on that court.
“It’s the story of a young girl who could rise from a public housing project to be nominated for the highest court in the land,” Obama said. “And I am confident that it's a story that will someday be told by the first Hispanic president of the United States of America.”
At another point in his address, Obama reversed his earlier remarks about non-believers, saying that praying to God is something everyone does.
“As I look out at this audience, I'm reminded of the power of faith in America -- faith in God, and a faith in the promise of this great country,” Obama said. “Each of us come from many different places. We trace our roots back to different nations, and we represent a broad spectrum of personal and political beliefs. But all of us pray to God.”
Obama also concluded his speech with a reference to God.
“Thank you for your partnership,” Obama said. “Thank you for your prayers. May God bless all of you, and may God bless the United States of America.”