U.S. President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence addressed the United Nations General Assembly in New York City on Monday, September 23, 2019. Trump called religious freedom one of his “highest priorities” and urged world leaders to act to end religious persecution.
“The United States was founded on the principle that our rights do not come from government; they come from God,” Trump said at the beginning of his speech. The president acknowledged the fact that the religious freedom enjoyed by Americans is “rare” and that most countries do not experience such freedom.
Pence and Trump Describe a Dire Situation
“More than 80 percent of the world’s population live in nations where religious freedom is threatened or banned,” Pence said during his introduction for Trump.
Pence mentioned the persecution Christians especially face in Iran. In Iraq, Pence said Christians and Yazidis have been “nearly wiped out.” In China, the Uighur Muslims face a threat to their way of life and culture, while pastors in China have repeatedly been imprisoned and beaten by the government. Calling out the President of Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega, Pence accused that leader of waging a war on the Catholic Church. In Venezuela, Pence said, Nicolás Maduro is using the country’s anti-hate laws to prosecute clergy while his aides are using the media to spread antisemitism.
Trump echoed Pence’s point that people are being jailed, persecuted—even murdered—by their own governments. Speaking specifically about Christians, Trump said it is “estimated that 11 Christians are killed every day for following the teachings of Christ.” Additionally, he mentioned the United States is committed to “standing up” for 250 million Christians worldwide who are being persecuted because of their faith.
Both Pence and Trump mentioned recent terror attacks that have targeted places of worship. Among those the pair brought up were the attacks at synagogues in Pennsylvania and California earlier this year; the mosques in Christ Church, New Zealand; and the bombings at churches in Sri Lanka. Trump also mentioned the shocking murder of a priest in France that occurred as he was conducting Mass in Normandy, France.
The U.S. Is Helping Those Persecuted for Their Faith
A major theme of both Pence’s and Trump’s speech included what the U.S., and the Trump administration in particular, has done to promote religious freedom. Pence said the reason Trump has taken “such decisive action” is because the situation is so pressing.
He mentioned the task force the administration has strapped together, entitled the Genocide Recovery and Persecution Response Program, that is focusing their efforts in northern Iraq. The initiative is backed by $370 million in funding to aid ethnic minorities and faith communities that have been persecuted by ISIS.
Additionally, the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom hosted by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and launched by the Trump Administration in 2018, held its second annual meeting this July in Washington, D.C. Pence also said the fact that he was sitting there, addressing the U.N. on the topic of religious freedom was, for him, “among the greatest honors I’ve ever had.”
Trump also mentioned his administration’s efforts to see Pastor Andrew Brunson released from prison in Turkey. Brunson and his wife, Norine, were in attendance at the meeting. Trump took the opportunity to make a critical comment about a “previous administration” that didn’t try hard enough to get Brunson out of Turkey.