VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: Mr. President, Mr. Secretary-General Guterres, Ambassador Craft, Mr. Secretary Pompeo, members of the Cabinet, distinguished members of Congress, world leaders, and most especially to the courageous men and women who join us here today who have suffered persecution and violence for simply living out your faith — whether that be Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and Islam — it is my great honor to be here today with the President of the United States to reaffirm America’s commitment to what the people of our nation have always believed: that every person is endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights. And Americans have always believed our first freedom is the freedom of religion.
Today, President Donald Trump becomes the first American President to convene a meeting, here at the United Nations, on religious freedom. And it is my great honor to introduce him. (Applause.)
And there’s no better time for a meeting like this on the world stage. As we gather here at the United Nations, more than 80 percent of the world’s population live in nations where religious freedom is threatened or banned.
The regime in Iran brutally persecutes Christians, Sunnis, Bahai’i, and Jews.
In Iraq, Iran-backed militias terrorize Christians and Yazidis who were nearly wiped out by ISIS’s recent campaign of genocide.
The Communist Party in China has arrested Christian pastors, banned the sale of Bibles, demolished churches, and imprisoned more than a million Uighurs in the Muslim population.
In our hemisphere, the regime of Daniel Ortega is virtually waging war on the Catholic Church in Nicaragua. And in Venezuela, the dictator Nicolás Maduro uses anti-hate laws to prosecute clergy, even as his media cronies spread anti-Semitism by trivializing the Holocaust.
Communities of faith across the wider world have also faced unspeakable acts of violence in places of worship, shocking the conscience of the world.
In October, 11 Jews were murdered in the Tree of Life Synagogue massacre in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In March, a gunman killed 51 Muslims at prayer in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. And just a month later, suicide bombers murdered more than 300 Christians during Easter services at three Christian churches in Sri Lanka.
These attacks strike at the heart of everything free peoples hold sacred. And the threats of religious freedom and the attacks on people of faith underscore why President Trump has taken such decisive action, since the very first days of our administration, to build and promote our nation’s proud tradition of advancing religious freedom. And that continues today.
At the President’s direction, the United States created the Genocide Recovery and Persecution Response Program, and we’ve provided more than $370 million to aid ethnic minorities in faith communities persecuted by ISIS in Iraq and throughout the region.
Earlier this year, at the President’s direction, the Secretary of State held the second annual Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, inviting more than a thousand civil society and religious leaders, in 100 different nations, to the largest event of its kind in the world.
And last year, at the inaugural ministerial, at the President’s direction, we established the International Religious Freedom Fund, which already has received nearly $5 million in pledges and given over 435 Rapid Response Grants to those persecuted for their deeply held beliefs. And to date, this effort has helped some 2,000 victims of religious persecution around the world.
As the President often says, America is a nation of faith, and we will always stand for the freedom of religion of every person, of every race and every creed, to live, to work, to worship according to the dictates of their conscience.
And today, giving evidence of his passion for religious liberty, the President will announce additional steps that the United States will take to protect religious liberty and defend people of faith around the world.
This is a very special day. And I always say it is a high honor to introduce this President. But to be here, at this historic gathering with leaders around the world, standing for our first freedom of religious liberty is among the greatest honors I’ve ever had.
And so let me say, it is my high honor and distinct privilege to introduce to you a tireless champion of the freedom of religion and people of every faith in America and around the world, the 45th President of the United States of America, President Donald Trump. (Applause.)
RESIDENT TRUMP: That’s very nice. Thank you very much. That’s very nice. And I want to thank Mike. Today, it’s a true honor to be the first President of the United States to host a meeting at the United Nations on religious freedom. And an honor it is. It’s long overdue. And I was shocked when I was given that statistic that I would be the first. That’s very sad, in many ways. And it’s great to be with you.
I want to thank Vice President Pence for the outstanding job he’s doing. He’s been a fantastic and valuable representative of our country.
Likewise, Secretary Mike Pompeo, Ambassador Kelly Craft, Secretary Ross, Secretary Mnuchin, Ambassador Sam Brownback all for joining us today. And we have other representatives of our Cabinet and the administration in the room. We’ve done a lot.
The Johnson Amendment doesn’t get spoken about enough, but I’m 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. It’s a very important thing, and I said that at the beginning and I say it now: It’s something I’m very proud of.
We’re also grateful that U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres could be here, along with so many of his friends and my friends — world leaders. I’ve gotten to know a lot of them, and I would imagine you know all of them. I would imagine. If you don’t, you’re not doing your job. (Laughter.)
And also, I want to thank my daughter Ivanka for being here. She works so hard on all of the things that are very important to the people in this room. So, thank you, Ivanka, for being here. (Applause.)
The United States is founded on the principle that our rights do not come from government; they come 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. 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.
Regrettably, the religious freedom enjoyed by American citizens is rare in the world. Approximately 80 percent of the world’s population live in countries where religious liberty is threatened, restricted, or even banned. And when I heard that number, I said, “Please go back and check it because it can’t possibly be correct.” And, sadly, it was. Eighty percent.
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. So hard to believe.
Today, with one clear voice, the United States of America calls upon the nations of the world to end religious persecution. (Applause.)
To stop the crimes against people of faith, release prisoners of conscience, repeal laws restricting freedom of religion and belief, 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.
As President, protecting religious freedom is one of my highest priorities and always has been. Last year, our Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, hosted the first-ever Ministerial to Advance International Religious Freedom.
In this year’s ministerial, Secretary Pompeo announced plans to create the International Religious Freedom Alliance — an alliance of likeminded nations devoted to confronting religious persecution all around the world.
I’ve appointed a special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism. We’re standing up for almost 250 million Christians around the world who are persecuted for their faith. It is estimated that 11 Christians are killed every day for the following — I mean, just think of this: Eleven Christians a day, for following the teachings of Christ. Who would even think that’s possible in this day and age? Who would think it’s possible?
With us today is Pastor Andrew Brunson, who was imprisoned in Turkey for a long period of time. Last year, my administration was thrilled to bring him back home after a very short and respectful negotiation with a very strong man — and a man who has become a friend of mine, fortunately — President Erdoğan of Turkey.
I called the President, and I said, “He’s an innocent man.” They’ve been trying to get Andrew out for a long time — previous administration. I don’t think they tried too hard, unfortunately.
But I want to thank President Erdoğan, and I want to thank you, Pastor, for being here with us today. Where is Andrew? Is he around someplace? Thank you, Andrew. (Applause.)
We did a good job with that negotiation, Andrew. You got back. It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t pretty. But you got back. And we’re proud of you. You have a great family. And the love — when Andrew came back, the love from so many people, it was — actually, I hadn’t seen anything quite like it.
So, congratulations. And I understand you’re doing fantastic work with your family. Thank you very much. Thank you, Andrew. (Applause.)
And I also want to thank Franklin Graham because he’s been so instrumental in everything we’re doing. He’s done such an incredible job in so many different ways, including floods and hurricanes. And every time I go, I see Franklin there. He’s always there before me. I don’t know how he gets there before me. I’m going to beat him one day. But he’s always at these places of — really, disaster areas. He’s right there with an incredible, large staff of volunteers that are just amazing. Thank you very much. And, CeCe, thank you very much. (Applause.) Thank you very much. And, Paula White, thank you very much.
In July, I met with survivors of religious persecution at the White House. And we’re honored that many of them could be here today as well. Some of these individuals suffered as a result of state-sponsored persecution; others, at the hands of terrorists and criminals. No matter the case, America will always be a voice for victims of religious persecution everywhere. No matter where you go, you have a place in the United States of America. Could I ask those folks to stand up, please? Please, stand up. (Applause.) Thank you. Thank you very much.
In recent times, the world has also witnessed devastating acts of violence in sacred places of worship. In 2016, an 85-year-old Catholic priest was viciously killed while celebrating mass in Normandy, France. In the past year, the United States endured horrifying anti-Semitic attacks against Jewish Americans at synagogues in Pennsylvania and California. In March, Muslims praying with their families were sadistically murdered in New Zealand. On Easter Sunday this year, terrorists bombed Christian churches in Sri Lanka, killing hundreds of faithful worshippers. Who would believe this is even possible?
These evil attacks are a wound on all humanity. We must all work together to protect communities of every faith. We’re also urging every nation to increase the prosecution and punishment of crimes against religious communities. There can be no greater crime than that. This includes measures to prevent the intentional destruction of religious sites and relics. Today, the Trump administration will dedicate an additional $25 million to protect religious freedom and religious sites and relics.
We’re also pleased to be joined today by many of the partners from the business community, as we announce a very critical initiative.
The United States is forming a coalition of U.S. businesses for the protection of religious freedom. This is the first time this has been done. This initiative will encourage the private sector to protect people of all faiths in the workplace. And the private sector has brilliant leadership. And that’s why some of the people in this room are among the most successful men and women on Earth. They know how things get done and they know how to take care of things. And they’re with us now for the first time, to this extent. First time, ever. And we’re really honored to have you in the room. Great business leaders, great people of strength.
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.
Before I conclude, I want to once again thank all of the survivors in the room for their courage and resilience. You’re an inspiration to the world. You remind us that no force on Earth is stronger than the faith of religious believers. The United States of America will forever remain at your side and the side of all who seek religious freedom.
Today, I ask all nations to join us in this urgent moral duty. 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.
Secretary-General Guterres will now share a few words on the U.N’s efforts to promote religious liberty for all. And he has been a champion of exactly what we’re in this room for.
So I want to thank everybody for being here. God bless you. God bless the faithful. And God bless America. Thank you very much. (Applause.) Thank you.