President Donald Trump announced Monday that the United States will dedicate $25 million to protect religious sites and houses of worship across the world and also announced the creation of a coalition of top business leaders to help protect religious freedom in the workplace.
Trump became the first American president ever to convene a meeting at the United Nations headquarters in New York City focusing solely on religious freedom. In a speech Monday morning, the 73-year-old called for the nations of the world to do their part to "end religious persecution."
The event was called "Global Call to Protect Religious Freedom" and was attended by Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
"As president, protecting religious freedom is one of my highest priorities and always has been," Trump assured.
The meeting was also attended by high ranking U.S. officials, survivors of religious persecution, faith leaders, business leaders and religious freedom advocates. Trump was introduced before his speech by Pence, who declared that Monday would be a "very special day."
"Today, giving evidence of his passion for religious liberty, the president will announce additional steps that the United States will take to protect religious liberty and defend people of faith around the world," Pence said.
During his nearly 15-minute speech, Trump detailed a number of things his administration has done to advance religious freedom around the world, such as securing the release of imprisoned pastor Andrew Brunson from Turkey and holding two historic State Department ministerials on religious freedom.
Toward the end of his speech, Trump mentioned new initiatives that the U.S. government is undertaking to help promote religious freedom across the globe.
One of those initiatives involves a significant contribution by the U.S. government to help protect religious sites across the world.
"Today, the Trump administration will dedicate an additional $25 million to protect religious freedom and religious sites and relics," Trump vowed, after listing attacks targeting Christian, Jewish and Muslim places of worship in the last year.
Trump did not offer specifics on the plan to dedicate the $25 million in funds.
Trump also announced a new coalition to promote international religious freedom.
"We are also pleased to be joined today by many of the partners of the business community as we announce a very critical initiative," Trump explained. "The United States is forming 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 faith in the workplace and the private sector has brilliant leadership," he added.
"That is why some of the people in this room are among the most successful men and women on Earth. They know how things get done and they know how to take care of things. They are with us now for the first time, to this extent, for the first time ever. We are really honored to have you in the room. Great business leaders and great people of strength."
A White House fact sheet issued Monday did not offer many specifics on the coalition.
The new initiatives announced by Trump come as the Trump administration has launched a number of efforts over the last several years designed to promote religious freedom worldwide or help those who have suffered from religious persecution.
At the second annual Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in July, the U.S. launched the International Religious Freedom Alliance, an alliance of like-minded nations dedicated to confronting religious persecution around the world.
In his remarks Monday, Pence explained that the U.S. has given over $370 million in aid to minority communities in Iraq and Syria in need of help resettling after they were pushed from their ancient homelands by the Islamic State terrorist organization in 2014.
Aid to persecuted minorities in Iraq and Syria has been given out through the administration's Recovery and Persecution Response Program.
At the first-ever State Department Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, the International Religious Freedom Fund was created to help survivors of religious persecution. According to Pence, the fund has raised over $5 million from pledges and given over 435 rapid response grants.
"To date, this effort has helped some 2,000 victims of religious persecution around the world," Pence declared.
Trump's speech was praised by Christian conservative activist Tony Perkins, who also serves on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
One of the top four recommendations listed in USCIRF's 2019 annual report calls for the State Department to allocate funding through its Antiterrorism Assistance Program to train and equip local officials and communities to protect places of worship and holy sites.
"The president delivered a historic speech that goes beyond talking about international religious freedom to taking tangible steps that will lead to people of all faiths being able to securely and publicly worship," Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council, said in a statement.
"Not only is religious freedom a fundamental human right, as recognized by the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but there is a growing body of research that shows that nations that uphold religious freedom have greater social and economic security — which indirectly makes all nations more secure, including the United States."
After Trump's remarks, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres gave a short speech explaining how the U.N. is taking steps to combat religious persecution.
"The best way to promote international religious freedom is by uniting our voices for good, countering messages of hate with messages of peace embracing diversity and protecting human rights everywhere," Guterres said.
"The United Nations is stepping up action through two new initiatives that I have launched in recent weeks. First, a strategy on hate speech to coordinate efforts across the U.N. system addressing root causes and making our response more effective against hate speech. Second, an action plan for the U.N. to be fully engaged in an effort to safeguard religious sites and ensure the safety of houses of worship. All these sites should be places of worship, not places of war."