Trump urges nations to 'stop persecuting people of faith' in Religious Freedom proclamation

Biden says US gov't must 'ensure that no one feels afraid to attend a religious service'

President Donald J. Trump disembarks Marine One at Valley International Airport in Harlingen, Texas, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021, and boards Air Force One en route to Joint Base Andrews, Maryland.
President Donald J. Trump disembarks Marine One at Valley International Airport in Harlingen, Texas, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021, and boards Air Force One en route to Joint Base Andrews, Maryland. | White House/Shealah Craighead

In one of his last presidential proclamations before leaving office, President Donald Trump called on Americans to cherish the "fundamental human right of religious freedom" and urged the nations of the world to "stop persecuting people of faith."

Trump signed a proclamation Friday recognizing Jan. 16 as 2021's Religious Freedom Day. He contended that faith and religious freedom were "deeply embedded in the heart and soul of our nation" before illustrating the role of religious freedom in U.S. history.

"When the pilgrims first crossed the Atlantic Ocean more than 400 years ago in pursuit of religious freedom, their dedication to this first freedom shaped the character and purpose of our nation," he wrote. "Later, with the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights, their deep desire to practice their religion unfettered from government intrusion was realized. Since then, the United States has set an example for the world in permitting believers to live out their faith in freedom."

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The president proceeded to outline his administration's record on the issue of religious freedom at home and abroad. He cited his signature of an executive order promoting free speech and religious liberty designed "to ensure that faith-based organizations would not be forced to compromise their religious beliefs as they serve their communities" and his work to protect "healthcare providers' rights not to be forced to perform procedures that violate their most deeply-held convictions" as examples of his work on behalf of religious freedom.

"We have ended the misguided policies of denying access to educational funding to historically black colleges and universities because of their religious character and of denying loan forgiveness to those who perform public services at religious organizations. Throughout this difficult year, we have continued these efforts, cutting red tape to ensure houses of worship and other faith-based organizations could receive Paycheck Protection Program loans on the same grounds and with the same parameters as any other entity," he added.

"We have also aggressively defended faith communities against overreach by state and local governments that have tried to shut down communal worship. Together, we have honored the sanctity of every life, protected the rights of Americans to follow their conscience and preserved the historical tradition of religious freedom in our country," Trump continued.

Additionally, the president discussed the actions taken by his administration to hold "foreign governments accountable for trampling — in many cases, egregiously so — on religious liberty. 

"The United States will never waver in these efforts to expand religious liberty around the world and calls on all nations to respect the rights of its citizens to live according to their beliefs and conscience.

"On Religious Freedom Day, we honor the vision of our Founding Fathers for a nation made strong and righteous by a people free to exercise their faith and follow their conscience," he concluded. "As Americans united in unparalleled freedom, we recommit to safeguarding and preserving religious freedom across our land and around the world."

The president closed his proclamation by urging Americans to celebrate Religious Freedom Day "with events and activities that remind us of our shared heritage of religious liberty and that teach us how to secure this blessing both at home and around the world."

President-elect Joe Biden, slated to take office Wednesday, issued his own statement in honor of Religious Freedom Day on Saturday. The incoming 46th President of the United States repeatedly touted the nation's religious diversity and vowed to "be vigilant against the rising tide of targeted violence and hate at home and abroad, and work to ensure that no one feels afraid to attend a religious service, school, or community center, or walk down the street wearing the symbols of their faith." 

"Ensuring freedom of religion remains more important than ever," Biden added. "Our government must safeguard these bedrock protections — never favoring certain faiths or discriminating against particular religions, and never imposing religious tests for citizenship, public office, or entry into our country."

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