President announces religious freedom initiatives during UN speech

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump announced new initiatives as part of a global call for protecting religious freedom at the United Nations General Assembly on Monday, which his aides have characterized as the centerpiece of his visit to the conference of world leaders.

President Trump announced that the U.S. would dedicate “$25 million to protect religious freedom, religious sites, and relics.” In addition, the U.S. will be “forming a coalition of U.S. businesses for the protection of religious freedom.”

President Trump said he is the first U.S. president to host such a meeting.

“That’s very sad in many ways,” he said. The President also called the issue one of his “highest priorities.”

“Today, with one clear voice, the United States of America calls upon the nations of the world to end religious persecution. Stop the crimes against people of faith,” President Trump said. “Release prisoners of conscience. Repeal laws restricting freedom of religion and belief. Protect the vulnerable, the defenseless, and the oppressed.”

Additionally, he asked “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.”

Several senior members of the Trump administration were also at the event. Vice President Mike Pence, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo were seated next to President Trump at the dais.

The religious freedom event included several statements from individuals affected by religious persecution around the world, including Pastor Andrew Brunson, who was imprisoned in Turkey.

Mr. Trump said he didn’t think other Presidents tried very hard to get Brunson out of prison. Brunson had been detained for two years.

“We did a good job with that negotiation,” he told Brunson, who was in the seating area, adding that the negotiation “wasn’t pretty.”

The religious freedom event comes alongside a Climate Action Summit at the UN General Assembly. President Trump was not scheduled to attend, despite the long list of world leaders slated to speak.

However, ahead of his speech denouncing religious persecution, he sat in on the speeches for about 15 minutes, watching Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and German Chancellor Angela Merkel deliver remarks.

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