Trump announces religious freedom initiatives during UN speech

United Nations (U.N.) Secretary General Antonio Guterres, U.S. President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence attend a meeting on religious freedom at U.N. headquarters on September 23, 2019 in New York City. While hundreds of world leaders gather for the climate summit during the UN General Assembly, President Trump chose to skip the event in favor of his own meeting on religious freedom and persecution. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

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.

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

Trump said he is the first US 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,” 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, US Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo were seated next to 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.

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,” Trump 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. 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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