President Donald Trump announced a new initiative at a United Nations event on Monday, pledging to spend “$25 million to protect religious freedom, religious sites, and relics.”
Trump also said he would be “forming a coalition of U.S. businesses for the protection of religious freedom,” calling it a first of its kind event, and describing it as his “highest priority.”
The Trump administration has a history of using so-called religious freedom concerns to go after LGBTQ rights. The administration has argued that it should be legal to deny services to LGBTQ people on that basis, including in health care.
Trump called for the “end of religious persecution,” despite his Muslim travel ban, which barred entry into the United States for 90 days for individuals hailing from seven Muslim-majority countries, as well as banned the entry of all refugees for 120 days, and indefinitely banned the entry of Syrian refugees.
The administration is also pressuring the University of North Carolina and Duke University to revise their joint Middle East studies program or else risk losing federal funding, claiming it disproportionately portrays “the positive aspects of Islam” while ignoring the positive aspects of Christianity and Judaism.
“President Trump was elected on the promise of a ’complete and utter shutdown’ of Muslim immigration to the US. Since then, his administration has worked tirelessly to redefine ’religious freedom’ as a license to discriminate,” said Rabbi Jack Moline, the president of Interfaith Alliance, in a statement. “If the President is serious about promoting true religious freedom worldwide, he should start with his own policies.”
Trump has signed two “religious freedom” executive orders since taking office: One in 2017, to ease the ban on political endorsements by churches and religious groups, and one in 2018, to set up a new faith-based office, the White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative.
Sitting alongside Trump at Monday’s UN event were U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback, Vice President Mike Pence, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, all of whom have anti-LGBTQ records.
Trump’s full remarks follow.