Image: Barack Obama
MANDEL NGAN  /  AFP/Getty Images
President Barack Obama acknowledges applause after speaking at the 58th National Prayer Breakfast Thursday at a hotel in Washington.
updated 2/4/2010 11:36:12 AM ET 2010-02-04T16:36:12

President Barack Obama said Thursday he prays lawmakers can restore a "spirit of civility" to the nation's capital.

Speaking at the annual National Prayer breakfast, Obama said divisions in Washington are nothing new, but "there is a sense that something is different now, that something is broken, that those of us in Washington aren't serving people as well as we should."

Obama said America's leaders are quick to unite in times of crisis, such as last month's devastating earthquake in Haiti. But when it comes to long-term problems, he said, lawmakers can become absorbed by ideology and power contests.

He urged leaders to be empowered by faith to bridge divisions and unite around common goals.

"You can question my policies without questioning my faith. Or, for that matter, my citizenship," Obama said, referring to critics who have questioned whether he was born in the United States.

Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former Florida Gators quarterback Tim Tebow also participated at the yearly breakfast, which has been held in Washington for more than 50 years. Every president since Dwight Eisenhower has participated.

This year's event drew controversy when an ethics group asked the president to boycott the breakfast over objections to the sponsor, The Fellowship Foundation. In a letter to Obama and congressional leaders, the watchdog group Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington said The Fellowship Foundation has "been cultivating an unorthodox brand of Christianity amongst the political, military and economic elite of America." The group says the foundation is also linked to efforts to pass strict anti-gay laws in Uganda.

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Video: Obama says faith sustained first year in office

  1. Transcript of: Obama says faith sustained first year in office

    BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: Also today, speaking at the National Prayer Breakfast , President Obama criticized what he called the erosion of civility in America . By way of example, he made clear reference to the whisper campaign that he's a Muslim or was born outside the US.

    President BARACK OBAMA: Now I am the first to confess I'm not always right. Michelle will testify to that. But surely you can question my policies without questioning my faith, or for that matter my citizenship.

    WILLIAMS: Every president since Eisenhower has participated in the annual prayer breakfast, but this year's event some controversy after an ethics group asked the president and congressional leaders to boycott it, saying the sponsor, The Fellowship Foundation , is linked to harsh anti- gay laws in Uganda . When NIGHTLY NEWS continues on a Thursday night, those 10 Americans who tried to take Haitian children out of the country are formally charged. What happens there now? Later, our conversation with a man who's working to turn around a city that a lot of other people have given up on.

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