Joan Frawley Desmond, is the Register’s senior editor. She is an award-winning journalist widely published in Catholic, ecumenical and secular media. A graduate of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies of Marriage and Family, she lives with her family in California..
President Donald Trump defended religious freedom around the world today during a groundbreaking speech before the General Assembly of the United Nations.
The president pledged that his administration would spend an “additional $25 million to protect religious freedom and religious sites and relics,” in the wake of stepped-up attacks both in the U.S. and abroad, where the Islamic State militants targeted major religious landmarks in Iraq and Syria. Read full text here.
Nina Shea, the director of Center for Religious Freedom at the Hudson Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based research center, told the Register that Trump’s speech today was “important and historic. It will signal to both the America people and the world that religious freedom is a domestic and foreign policy concern, and human rights concern.”
Shea emphasized that the president’s address featured one of the “highest-profile lineups [of a U.S. administration] on any issue," with Trump flanked by Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Sam Brownback, Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom.
The speech “comes at a time when it is very clear that we are entering a new era of intense religious persecution. It started about 15 years ago with events in the Middle East, and now the upsurge in China and Sub Sahara Africa.
“It is clear that Christians are really in the crosshairs, more intensely persecuted than any other group, though others are suffering.”
The president cited recent terrorist attacks in the West and the developing world that devastated vulnerable religious communities.
“In 2016, an 85-year-old Catholic priest was viciously killed while celebrating Mass in Normandy, France. In the past year, the United States endured horrifying anti-Semitic attacks against Jewish Americans at synagogues in Pennsylvania and California,” he noted.
“In March, Muslims praying with their families were sadistically murdered in New Zealand. On Easter Sunday this year, terrorists bombed Christian churches in Sri Lanka, killing hundreds of faithful worshippers.”
He urged governments across the globe to “increase the prosecution and punishment of crimes against religious communities.” And he asked them to make a more concerted effort to “prevent the intentional destruction of religious sites and relics.”
To help counter the growing threat to religious freedom across the world, Trump reported that his administration recently “hosted the first-ever Ministerial to Advance International Religious Freedom,” and kicked off plans to “create the International Religious Freedom Alliance — an alliance of like-minded nations devoted to confronting religious persecution all around the world.”
Of equal importance, the president also made clear that the “first freedom” needs shoring up in the United States.
As the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to hear oral arguments Oct. 8 in three high profile LGBTQ cases that could strengthen workplace protections for same-sex attracted and transgender employees — more than 200 corporations filed an amicus brief, which urged the justices to decide in favor of the employee.
Trump announced that his administration would form “a coalition of U.S. businesses for the protection of religious freedom.”
“This is the first time this has been done. This initiative will encourage the private sector to protect people of all faiths in the workplace,” Trump told the U.N. General Assembly.
“Too often, people in positions of power preach diversity while silencing, shunning, or censoring the faithful. True tolerance means respecting the right of all people to express their deeply held religious beliefs.”
Reacting to Trump’s U.N. address, Bill Donohue of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights said the president’s decision to bring U.S. corporations together on this pivotal issue was critical, and “a huge improvement over the Obama years when religious liberty was privatized to mean freedom to worship.”