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Obama hails Dalai Lama, condemns the Islamic State at National Prayer Breakfast

President Obama hailed the Dalai Lama at the National Prayer Breakfast Thursday, giving a show of support in a relationship fraught with thorny geopolitical implications.

Obama called the Tibetan spiritual leader a "good friend" and upheld him as a "powerful example of what it means to practice compassion."

Obama bowed his head and brought his hands together in a Namaste gesture when the Dalai Lama was introduced at the beginning of the breakfast. The Dalai Lama was seated at a table with top Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett. She was dispatched to Dharamsala, India, where the Dalai Lama lives in exile, after the White House canceled a meeting with the leader ahead of Obama's first visit to Beijing in 2009.

Chinese leaders sharply criticized the presence of the Dalai Lama at the Prayer Breakfast -- as Beijing did the previous three times the two men met in the past. This time, the White House stressed they did not invite the Dalai Lama and that he and Obama had no plans to meet.

China's concerns about the Dalai Lama stem from his role as the leader of Tibet's push for political and economic autonomy from China.

Obama spoke at length about the Islamic State, which he called a "brutal, vicious death cult that in the name of religion" carries out "acts of barbarism."

President Obama spoke about how religion can be abused and the common theme of loving thy neighbor during his speech at the National Prayer Breakfast on Feb. 5, 2015, in Washington, D.C. Here are highlights from that event. (Video: WhiteHouse.gov)

Faith, he said, is being "twisted and distorted" and "used as a weapon" by the Islamic State, which he said subjects women to rape as an act of war and persecutes religious minorities. He also warned of groups using religion as a means for carrying out brutality in Africa and a rising tide of anti-Semitism and hate crimes in Europe. Faith has been warped and misrepresented in the past -- from the Crusades to the Inquisition to slavery to Jim Crow, he said.

"There is a tendency in us, a sinful tendency that can pervert and distort our faith," Obama said, which is "not unique to one group or one religion.”

In an age when fanatical groups are on social media, it can be "harder to counteract" intolerance, he said, but God compels people to try.

"No God condones terror, no grievance justifies the taking of innocent lives or the oppression of those who are weaker or fewer in number," he said. "We are summoned to push back against those who would distort our religion for their nihilistic ends."

Obama hearkened back to the "wisdom" of the Founding Fathers, who wrote the "fundamental" freedom of religion into the founding documents of the United States.

Nations, he said, are stronger when people of all faiths are embraced -- and when a wall is held up between faith and the government.

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