On Monday President Trump became the first president of the United States to host a meeting at the United Nations on religious freedom. At the “Global Call to Protect Religious Freedom,” held at the United Nations headquarters in New York, the president spoke to the heads of state of more than 130 nations. The president was also joined by Vice President Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, UN Ambassador Kelly Craft, and Ambassador for Religious Freedom Sam Brownback, as well as by other representatives of his cabinet and administration.
The president’s remarks received praise from numerous groups dedicated to protecting religious liberty. “The president’s speech is an important and historic moment precisely because religious freedom is too often ignored or downplayed at the UN,” said Kelsey Zorzi, international director of Global Religious Freedom at the Alliance Defending Freedom.
Here are six key themes from the president’s speech:
1. Opposition to the Johnson Amendment
Trump said he was “very proud to say that we’ve obliterated the Johnson Amendment within our country so that now we can listen to the people that we want to listen to — religious leaders — without recrimination against them.” The Johnson Amendment refers to a statute in the Internal Revenue Code which prohibits tax-exempt organizations, such as churches, from attempting to influence political campaigns. Last May the president signed an executive order directing the Treasury Department to be lenient in its enforcement of current law against religious organizations. The executive order, however, does not eliminate the Johnson Amendment, which can only be changed or rescinded by Congress.
2. Rights come from God, not government
The president noted that our rights—including religious liberty—come not from government but from God. “This immortal truth is proclaimed in our Declaration of Independence and enshrined in the First Amendment to our Constitution’s Bill of Rights,” said Trump. “Our Founders understood that no right is more fundamental to a peaceful, prosperous, and virtuous society than the right to follow one’s religious convictions.”
3. The rarity of religious freedom across the world
The president noted that approximately 80% of the world’s population lives in countries where religious liberty is threatened, restricted, or even banned. “As we speak, Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Yazidis, and many other people of faith are being jailed, sanctioned, tortured, and even murdered, often at the hands of their own government, simply for expressing their deeply held religious beliefs,” Trump said.
“Today, with one clear voice,” he added, “the United States of America calls upon the nations of the world to end religious persecution.”
4. The accomplishments of his administration in protecting religious freedom
Trump listed several of the actions his administration has taken on the issue of religious freedom, including the appointment of a special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism, the negotiated release of evangelical pastor Andrew Brunson from imprisonment in Turkey, the allotment of an additional $25 million to protect religious freedom and religious sites and relics, and plans to create the International Religious Freedom Alliance—an alliance of likeminded nations devoted to confronting religious persecution all around the world.
5. The announcement of a U.S. private-public coalition on religious freedom
President Trump also announced that the U.S. is forming a coalition of American-based businesses for the protection of religious freedom. “This is the first time this has been done,” said Trump. “This initiative will encourage the private sector to protect people of all faiths in the workplace.” No details were released about the coalition, but the president noted that, “Too often, people in positions of power preach diversity while silencing, shunning, or censoring the faithful. True tolerance means respecting the right of all people to express their deeply held religious beliefs.”
6. The prioritization of protecting religious freedom
The president said that protecting religious freedom is “one of my highest priorities and always has been.” He called on other countries to stop the crimes against people of faith, release prisoners of conscience, repeal laws restricting freedom of religion and belief, and to “protect the vulnerable, the defenseless, and the oppressed.” “America stands with believers in every country who ask only for the freedom to live according to the faith that is within their own hearts,” he said.
“Today, I ask all nations to join us in this urgent moral duty,” Trump added. “We ask the governments of the world to honor the eternal right of every person to follow their conscience, live by their faith, and give glory to God. The United States has a vital role in this critical mission.”