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At U.N., Trump calls for end to religious persecution

By Nicholas Sakelaris
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At U.N., Trump calls for end to religious persecution
President Donald Trump speaks Monday at an event on religious freedom at the 74th General Debate at the United Nations General Assembly in New York City. Seated beside him is Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

Sept. 23 (UPI) -- President Donald Trump told the United Nations Monday that stopping religious persecution around the world is one of his "highest priorities."

The event marked the first time a U.S. president has called a U.N. summit on religious freedom. Speaking before a crowd of world leaders, U.S. business owners and survivors of religious persecution, Trump committed another $25 million to protect religious freedom, religious sites and relics from persecution and destruction. He cited instances of state-sponsored religious persecution and attacks by individuals, terrorists and criminals. He said 80 percent of the world's population lives in places where freedom of religion is banned, restricted or threatened.

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"The United States is founded on the principle that our rights do not come from government; they come from God," he said. "This immortal truth is proclaimed in our Declaration of Independence and enshrined in the First Amendment to our Constitution's Bill of Rights. Our Founders understood that no right is more fundamental to a peaceful, prosperous, and virtuous society than the right to follow one's religious convictions."

The U.S. president said there have been cases worldwide of Christians, Muslims and members of the Jewish faith being tortured, jailed or otherwise persecuted because of their religion.

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"Regrettably, the religious freedom enjoyed by American citizens is rare in the world," Trump said. "America stands with believers in every country who ask only for the freedom to live according to the faith that is within their own hearts. No matter where you go, you have a place in the United States of America."

Those in the crowd included Pastor Andrew Brunson, who was imprisoned in Turkey for two years. Trump said he told Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that Brunson was an innocent man and soon secured his release.

"We're proud of you. The love from so many people, I hadn't seen anything quite like that," Trump said of Brunson. "I understand you're doing great work with your family."

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The speech offered Trump a chance to connect with his evangelical Christian base. Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo were also in attendance.

U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres urged the United Nations to do everything it can to prevent religious ethnic cleansing.

"It is totally unacceptable in the 21st century for people to face discrimination and intimidation for their beliefs," Guterres said. "The persecution of religious minorities is totally unacceptable."

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