On Monday, President Trump became the first U.S. President in history to convene a meeting at the United Nations focused solely on the issue of religious freedom. The event, hailed as a “Global Call to Protect Religious Freedom,” kicked off this year’s U.N. General Assembly in New York.
“Today, I ask all nations to join us in this urgent moral duty,” said Trump to a room crowded with high-level government officials, faith leaders, business leaders, and religious freedom advocates. “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.”
Trump was joined at the event by U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and newly appointed U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Kelly Craft.
U.S. Commitment to Religious Freedom
Reaffirming a commitment to religious freedom, Trump outlined several of the initiatives his administration has championed since taking office. Among these:
- Ministerials to Advance International Religious Freedom in 2018 and 2019
- Creation of the International Religious Freedom Alliance of nations, devoted to confronting global religious persecution
- Appointment of a special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism
- Formation of a coalition of U.S. business leaders to protect people of faith in the workplace
- $25 million dedicated to the protection of religious freedom and religious sites and relics
Trump signaled his intention to make religious freedom a priority early in his tenure with the appointment of Sam Brownback as Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom. Brownback, who also participated in the UNGA event, has been an important driver of the president’s religious freedom policy. In a briefing following the event, he noted that persecution occurs all too often around the world. “Over 80 percent of the world’s population…don’t have freedom of religion, and it’s time somebody did something about it.”
Many in the international community who have questioned the Trump administration’s commitment to human rights in general and religious freedom specifically, welcomed the UNGA event. Writing in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, Kelsey Zorzi, president of the U.N.’s NGO Committee on Freedom of Religion or Belief had this to say:
“After the U.S. pulled out from the U.N. Human Rights Council last year, some wondered if the U.S. would withdraw from the U.N. altogether. Mr. Trump has now made clear that he intends to engage in the U.N. system where it has potential to make a positive impact on those suffering human-rights abuses, particularly abuses of the right to freedom of religion.”
Tangible initiatives aside, some would point to discrepancies between President Trump’s rhetoric and his policies — particularly the administration’s refugee policies — that would undermine the positive work underway.
Also attending the UNGA event were several survivors of religious persecution. Trump addressed this contingent specifically, saying, “Some of these individuals suffered as a result of state-sponsored persecution, others in the hands of terrorists, criminals. 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.”
Yet, there are reports that the administration is considering reducing — or eliminating altogether — the number of refugees permitted to resettle in the United States. For years, the U.S. provided safe haven for upwards of 95,000 vulnerable individuals. Many were fleeing religious persecution.
The Trump administration has reduced that number to just 30,000. Now, it would seem, that number could be scaled back even further or zeroed out completely. The prospect has many officials and religious freedom advocates alarmed. In a statement earlier this month, Tony Perkins, Chair of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) urged the administration to “extend its admirable commitment to advancing religious freedom to its refugee resettlement policy.”
Watch President Trump’s full remarks at the Global Call to Protect Religious Freedom event below: