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BOB ABERNETHY, host: Fighting religious extremism was also a major topic at the National Prayer Breakfast held in Washington Thursday. More than 3,500 leaders from many faiths gathered for the annual event. And this year, there was a surprise special guest: the Dalai Lama. Kim Lawton has more.

KIM LAWTON, correspondent: It was the first time the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism attended the prayer breakfast. It was also the first time he has appeared at the same public event as President Obama, although the two have meet privately. The Dalai Lama did not speak, but was recognized from the podium several times.

SEN. ROBERT CASEY (D-Penn.): His Holiness, the Dalai Lama—we’re honored by his presence.

LAWTON: Supporters and opponents of the Dalai Lama both demonstrated outside. The Chinese government criticized the exiled leader’s appearance, saying it would damage US-China relations. Although the prayer breakfast traditionally has had a strong evangelical tone, it has become increasingly diverse in recent years. The head table for this, the 63rd annual breakfast, included several prominent non-evangelical religious leaders. During his address, President Obama emphasized the importance of religious freedom. He condemned ISIS, calling it a “brutal, vicious death cult” that has betrayed Islam. But he also noted that Christians and people of other faiths have committed acts of violence in the name of religion as well.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: This is not unique to one group or one religion. There is a tendency in us, a sinful tendency that can pervert and distort our faith...As people of faith, we are summoned to push back against those who try to distort our religion—any religion—for their own nihilistic ends.

LAWTON: The president said the many challenges the world faces highlight the need for prayer. I’m Kim Lawton in Washington.

National Prayer Breakfast

People from many faiths gathered in Washington for the 63rd annual National Prayer Breakfast, including the Dalai Lama. One major theme this year was fighting religious extremism, which President Obama said “is not unique to one group or one religion.”