President Donald Trump on Thursday insisted that protecting religious
freedom is a U.S. priority, while defending his recent halt of refugee
admissions as a necessary step to protect that freedom. “Freedom of religion is a sacred right, but it is also a right under
threat all around us, and the world is under serious, serious threat in
so many different ways, and I’ve never seen it so much and so openly
since I took the position of President,” President Trump stated at the
National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday morning.
“There are those who would seek to enter our country for the purpose
of spreading violence or oppressing other people based upon their faith
or their lifestyle. Not right,” he said. “We will not allow a beachhead
of intolerance to spread in our nation.” Last week, Trump ordered a halt to refugee admissions for 120 days –
indefinitely for Syrian refugees – and a temporary ban on immigration
from seven countries in the Middle East and Africa. The order was met
with criticism from the U.S. bishops and humanitarian organizations.
On Thursday, the president spoke at the annual National Prayer
Breakfast at the Washington Hilton Hotel, a tradition that dates back to
1953. Each year on the first Thursday of February, religious and civic
leaders gather in prayer for the country. Vice President Mike Pence was in attendance as well as King Abdullah II of Jordan.
Michael Wear, former director of faith outreach for Obama 2012
campaign, said that according to a "trusted source," at least half a
dozen people who were invited to the prayer breakfast were unable to
attend due to the new travel restrictions. President Trump emphasized the global threat of religious violence,
citing “acts of wanton slaughter against religious minorities,” and
noting that “terrorism is a fundamental threat to religious freedom.”
“We have seen peace-loving Muslims, brutalized, victimized, murdered,
and oppressed by ISIS killers. We have seen threats of extermination
against the Jewish people,” he said. “We have seen a campaign of ISIS
and genocide against Christians where they cut off heads.” He pledged to stop such violence and “to defend and protect religious
liberty in our land,” insisting that Americans must live in “a tolerant
society” where they “can feel safe and secure.” “In recent days, we have begun to take necessary action to achieve that goal,” he continued.
Last week, his executive order on “protecting the nation from foreign
terrorist entry into the United States” suspended refugee admissions
into the U.S. for 120 days and immigration from seven countries for 60
days while his administration would investigate the security of the
refugee resettlement program and the quality of information-gathering on
foreign nationals seeking to enter the U.S.
“Our nation has the most generous immigration system in the world,”
he said, but some people “exploit that generosity.” He promised to
ensure that future immigrants and refugees “fully embrace our values of
religious and personal liberty, and that they reject any form of
oppression and discrimination.”
“We will be a safe country, we will be a free country, and we will be
a country where all citizens can practice their beliefs without fear of
hostility or fear of violence,” he said.
Earlier in the program, the Senate chaplain, Barry C. Black, emphasized the power of prayer.
“I agree with Tennyson that more things are wrought by prayer than
this world dreams of,” he said. “My friends, when we make our voices
heard in heaven, it makes a palpable difference.”
He added that first, “we pray from a sense of need,” saying that “my
friends, God wants us to pray when we need Him,” and “we ought to pray
that God’s hand will be on our President.”
“Secondly, pray with intimacy,” he insisted, pointing to Jesus addressing God the Father as “Abba,” or “daddy.”
“Pray like Hannah,” he said, pointing to the mother of the prophet
Samuel who “prayed with such specificity and such intimacy” for a baby
that the priest Eli “thought she was inebriated.”
Also, “pray for those who govern,” he added, “so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity.”
Sens. Chris Coons (D-Del.) and John Boozman (R-Ark.), heads of the
Senate’s weekly prayer breakfast group, and Reps. Robert Aderholt
(R-Ala.) and Juan Vargas (D-Calif.), heads of the House weekly prayer
breakfast group, spoke and highlighted their common prayer which
transcends political party lines.
“We haven’t come here to celebrate power or money or politics. We’ve
come here together to pray. And it may be the understatement of the
century that Washington, D.C. needs prayer,” Sen. Coons stated.
Trump at the breakfast also pledged to repeal the Johnson Amendment,
which prohibits non-profit organizations and their representatives from
officially endorsing political candidates or participating in their
campaigns, lest they lose their tax-exempt status.
“Jefferson asked can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have
removed the conviction that these liberties are the gift of God?” Trump
asked, noting that “among those freedoms is the right to worship
according to our own beliefs.”
“That is why I will get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson
Amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and
without fear of retribution.”