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Explainer: Trump urges end to religious persecution

NEW YORK (BP) — On Monday (Sept. 23), at the “Global Call to Protect Religious Freedom” event at the United Nations headquarters in New York, President Trump delivered an address urging world leaders and members of the international community to join the fight to end religious persecution and protect religious freedom across the globe.

According to Pew Research Center, both government restrictions on religious freedom and social hostilities toward religion have been on the rise around the world since 2007. Standing before U.N. Secretary General António Guterres and a room full of foreign leaders, Trump offered an impassioned plea for governments across the world to make a concerted effort to end religious persecution.

What is this event?

To highlight the issue of religious freedom as a priority for his administration and to ensure the subject received proper attention from the leaders of foreign governments, Trump hosted the “Global Call to Protect Religious Freedom” as an auxiliary event at the start of the United Nations General Assembly’s annual gathering in New York City.

At the event, Trump, along with Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and newly-confirmed Ambassador to the U.N. Kelly Craft, delivered remarks spotlighting concerns about international religious persecution and drawing attention to the administration’s efforts to uphold the rights of members of all faiths around the world. The president convened the event in hopes of galvanizing world leaders to action in defense of religious freedom.

What did Trump say about religious freedom?

Trump began his address by affirming the significance of religious freedom. Religious freedom is a foundational American liberty, because it is a fundamental human right, he noted, adding “The United States is founded on the principle that our rights do not come from government; they come from God.”

“Our Founders understood,” the president said, “that no right is more fundamental to a peaceful, prosperous, and virtuous society than the right to follow one’s religious convictions.”

Explaining the urgency behind his call for action, the president said, “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 in response to the increasing levels of religious persecution worldwide, Trump issued a clear call to action. “Today, with one clear voice, the United States of America calls upon the nations of the world to end religious persecution,” he said.

Describing religious freedom as one his “highest priorities” and “an urgent moral duty,” the president implored “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.” And beyond calling other nations to the task, he also affirmed the “vital role” of the United States in this “critical mission.” Citing the need for cooperation, Trump stated, “We must all work together to protect communities of every faith.”

In his remarks, the president also chastened those who would ignore the issue. “Too often, people in positions of power preach diversity while silencing, shunning, or censoring the faithful,” he said. “True tolerance means respecting the right of all people to express their deeply held religious beliefs.”

Has religious freedom been a priority for the administration?

Yes. Combatting encroachments on religious freedom has been a major point of emphasis for the administration. Chief among its accomplishments in advancing religious freedom was the administration’s successful effort to secure the freedom of pastor Andrew Brunson, who was held captive by the government of Turkey for more than two years. Additionally, in July the State Department convened its second Religious Freedom Ministerial.

The event, spearheaded by U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback, brought together more than 100 governments and nearly 1,000 participants, including religious leaders, foreign dignitaries, and elected officials for the purpose of stemming the tide of religious persecution worldwide.

Other examples of the administration’s efforts to uphold religious freedom include its actions to rectify the egregious religious freedom violations related to the Obama administration’s controversial HHS mandate — a rule requiring employers to provide coverage for contraceptives even if doing so violated their sincerely held beliefs.

Under Trump, the Department of Health and Human Services “established a new Conscience and Religious Freedom division to help direct the agency’s efforts to protect religious freedom.” And in addition, the administration also implemented “a rule providing more flexibility for Federal employees whose religious beliefs require them to abstain from work on certain days.”

Is this advocacy of religious freedom limited only to certain faiths?

No. The Trump Administration has frequently expressed concern about the rising levels of religious persecution across the globe. In his address, Trump mentioned the plight of “Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Yazidis, and many other people of faith [who] are being jailed, sanctioned, tortured, and even murdered, often at the hands of their own government, simply for expressing their deeply held religious beliefs.”

Of particular concern for the administration is the imprisonment of Uighur Muslims in internment camps in western China — an issue Pence specifically addressed in his remarks. The vice president criticized China’s Communist Party for its religious liberty violations, including arresting Christian pastors, banning the sale of the Bible, and imprisoning more than 1 million Uighur Muslims.

Why does this matter to Southern Baptists?

The defense of religious freedom has been a central tenet of the Baptist faith since its inception. Southern Baptists, in particular, have a proud and storied legacy of working to advance religious liberty in the United States and beyond. Since the year 2000, during the denomination’s annual meetings, Southern Baptists have affirmed no less than 15 resolutions to promote and advance religious freedom. Southern Baptists should be encouraged by these efforts from the Trump Administration to protect this sacred liberty, and should continue to work and pray for an end to religious persecution.

What is next?

Promising to continue the fight against religious persecution, in his address Trump announced that the United States has committed an additional $25 million to the cause of protecting religious freedom and to preventing the “intentional destruction of religious sites and relics.”

He also confirmed that the State Department will be establishing “the International Religious Freedom Alliance,” which the president described as “an alliance of likeminded nations devoted to confronting religious persecution all around the world.” Additionally, Trump announced the development of another new initiative. “The United States is forming a coalition of U.S. businesses for the protection of religious freedom,” he stated, which “will encourage the private sector to protect people of all faiths in the workplace.”