Vice President Mike Pence warned about the attacks on religious liberty during his commencement address to Liberty University graduates on Saturday.
Speaking at Liberty’s Williams Stadium in Lynchburg, Virginia, Pence said he believed “it’s become acceptable and even fashionable to ridicule and discriminate against people of faith” in the United States.
“It wasn’t all that long ago that the last administration brought the full weight of the federal government against the Little Sisters of the Poor merely because that group of nuns refused to provide a health plan that violated their deeply held religious beliefs,” said Pence, speaking about the nuns' refusal to pay for (directly or indirectly) abortions or birth control methods that could induce abortions.
“When my wife, Karen, returned to teach art at an elementary Christian school earlier this year, we faced harsh attacks by the media and the secular left.”
Pence then described how one reporter started a Twitter hashtag #exposeChristianschools to encourage people to share negative experiences attending Christian private schools.
“These attacks on Christian education are un-American,” declared Pence, noting that the Trump administration has taken “decisive action to protect religious liberty.”
“I promise you, we will always stand up for the right of Americans to live, to learn, and to worship God according to the dictates of their conscience.”
Pence also touted the Trump administration’s handling of the economy, telling the graduates that “you picked a great time to graduate, because after two years of the leadership of President Donald Trump, jobs are coming back and America is back.”
“You are entering a growing American economy,” Pence said. “The America that awaits your energies and ambitions is experiencing a new era of opportunity and optimism. You’re beginning your careers at a time when this economy is growing. And we’ve restored American stature at home and abroad.”
In March, Pence announced at the Conservative Political Action Conference that he would be giving the commencement address at Liberty’s graduation ceremony.
“It is great for us to be back at CPAC 2019, the largest gathering of conservatives anywhere in America,” said Pence at the time. “I also want to give a shoutout to all those great conservatives watching across the country, especially all of our friends joining us live from Lynchburg, Virginia, at Liberty University — I'll see you in May.”
Saturday’s address marked the second time Pence has spoken at Liberty. His first time was at a Convocation event on Oct. 12, 2016, when he was governor of Indiana.
Liberty President Jerry Falwell Jr. gave introductory remarks for Pence, commending the vice president for his “service and devotion to our country,” “nobility of character,” and “resilience.”
“He serves our country with high distinction, dignity, and honor, defending America’s freedoms and principles, often under the unrelenting scrutiny of a hostile press,” said Falwell.
Pence was not the only member of the Trump administration to address the graduates. Dr. Ben Carson, secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, also spoke.
During his remarks, Carson also addressed the graduates, encouraging them to be courageous and to try and do different things despite possible popular opposition.
“It’s particularly important in our county right now, because there are forces of political correctness that want you to shut up and not express what you believe,” Carson said.
“We cannot allow our country to be deprived of the Judeo-Christian values that made it into a great nation.”
The commencement ceremony came amid allegations that Falwell had former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen intervene in 2015 to prevent “personal” photographs of him going public.
According to a recorded conversation between Cohen and actor Tom Arnold that was reported on by The Washington Post and others, Cohen said the Falwells had a “bunch of photographs” they wanted to keep private. Cohen called the images ones usually kept “between husband and wife.”
“I was going to pay him and I was going to get the negatives and do an agreement where they turn over all technology that has the photographs or anything like that, any copies,” said Cohen to Arnold, as reported by The Washington Post. “I actually have one of the photos. It’s terrible.”
For his part, Falwell denied the claim in an interview with conservative pundit Todd Starnes, declaring that there “are no compromising or embarrassing photos of me.”
“While we have a longstanding friendship with Michael Cohen, we never engaged or paid Cohen to represent us in any legal or other professional capacity, and Cohen did not ever resolve any legal matter on our behalf,” Falwell told Starnes.