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President Trump backs global religious freedom in speech

UNITED NATIONS — In a room packed with religious and world leaders in town for the United Nations General Assembly, President Donald Trump was the headline speaker for the Global Call to Protect Religious Freedom, where he announced a plan to spend $25 million “to protect religious freedom, religious sites and relics.”

The administration had put its full weight behind what Vice President Mike Pence billed as the first ever U.N. confab on religious freedom, as he introduced Trump as “a tireless champion of the freedom of religion and people of every faith in America and around the world.”

U.N. Secretary António Guterres, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Kelly Craft also shared the stage.

Before the event, Trump popped in to catch Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi speak at the U.N. Climate Action Summit for a few minutes, even though the administration had signaled it would opt out of the event. (On Sunday, Trump attended a massive “Howdy Modi” rally in Houston, where the leaders of the world’s two largest democracies clasped hands and declared their mutual friendship.)

To many critics, Trump’s decision not to participate in the climate event served as yet another example of the disruptive president bucking the international community and going it alone.

While Trump pulled the United States out of the Paris global climate agreement in 2017 and has derided global warming as a “hoax,” Monday afternoon he told reporters he sat in on the climate summit, “because I like clean air and clean water.”

On “Fox and Friends,” televangelist Robert Jeffress said, “It is a remarkable thing that this president would skip a U.N. climate change summit on an imaginary problem to address the very real problem of global persecution of believers.”

“This isn’t a one-off thing,” a senior administration official told the Review Journal last week about the White House interest in religious freedom and work to stop religious persecution abroad.

Pompeo has worked with fellow Kansan Sam Brownback, who left his position as governor of Kansas to serve as U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, on two State Department Ministerials to Advance Religious Freedom. And Brownback has assembled voluminous reports on the status of religious freedom in every country on the planet.

At the United Nations, Brownback introduced attendees who had been the victims of religious persecution.

The deeply devout Pence has been an advocate, for example, for evangelical pastor Andrew Brunson, who had been detained in Turkey for 24 months until his release last year. Brunson attended the event, as did a number of other victims of religious persecution.

But Pence reached beyond the plight of Christians as he called out Iran for persecuting Christians, Sunnis, Bahái’í and Jews, Iraq for terrorizing Christians and Yazidis, China for arresting Christian pastors and imprisoning more than a million Uighurs.

The whiff of 2020 politics permeated the room as a number of prominent figures from the religious right, including Family Research Council President Tony Perkins and former GOP presidential candidate Gary Bauer attended the event.

Republican Jewish Coalition Executive Director Matt Brooks released a statement praising Trump and Pence for their “focus on combating anti-Semitism” — and singling out synagogue shootings in Poway and Pittsburgh.

Ibrahim Hooper of the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) was not won over. “Unfortunately, President Trump has been the prime mover of Islamophobia in America, and even worldwide,” Hooper said.

“Even before he was president, he was calling for a complete ban on Muslims from entering the United States,” he added.

As for Brownback’s frequent criticism of China for its treatment of Uighars, a Muslim minority, Hooper complained he “had heard certain statements from public officials, but I’ve seen no real action.”

During a series of bilateral meetings with foreign leaders, reporters peppered Trump with questions about a July 25 phone call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky. Asked if he would release a readout or transcript, Trump responded, “Perhaps you’ll see it, perhaps you won’t see that.”

The Review-Journal is owned by the family of Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson. Adelson is on the board of directors of the Republican Jewish Coalition.

Contact Debra J. Saunders at dsaunders@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7391. Follow @DebraJSaunders on Twitter.

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