(CNSNews.com) – President Donald Trump used his speech at the National Day of Prayer service at the White House on Thursday to condemn attacks on people of faith domestically and worldwide.
“As we unite on this day of prayer, we renew our resolve to protect communities of faith and to ensure that all people and all of our people can live and pray and worship in peace. In recent months, it’s been pretty tough. We’ve seen evil and hate-filled attacks on religious communities in the United States and all around the world,” he said during the Rose Garden ceremony.
“One month ago, three historically black churches were burned tragically in Louisiana. In Sri Lanka and New Zealand, hundreds of Christians and Muslims were brutally murdered at their places of worship. In October, an anti-Semitic killer attacked the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. That was a horrible event. The first lady and I went to see. That was not even believable,” Trump said.
“And last week, a gunman opened fire at a synagogue in Poway, California, while Jewish families celebrated the last day of Passover. We mourn for the loss of one extraordinary member of that congregation – Lori Gilbert Kaye – who stood in front of the shooter and gave her life to protect her rabbi – an incredible man, an incredible person,” he added.
The president began his speech by sending prayers to “the people of Venezuela in their righteous struggle for freedom.”
“The brutal repression of the Venezuela people must end, and it must end soon. People are starving. They have no food. They have no water, and this was once one of the wealthiest countries in the world. So we wish them well. We’ll be there to help, and we are there to help,” he said.
The president said people are saying “God” and “Merry Christmas” more often now.
“People are so proud to use the word God, and they’re using the word God again, and they’re not hiding from it, and they’re not being told to take it down, and they’re not saying we can’t honor God. In God we trust – so important,” he said.
Trump said during his first campaign, people were “not allowed” or in some cases, were “ashamed” to use the phrase “Merry Christmas” in stores.
“They’d say, Happy Holidays. They’d have red walls, and you never see Christmas,” he said. “Take a look at your stores nowadays. It’s all ‘Merry Christmas’ again.”
Trump said he’s most proud of repealing the Johnson Amendment, a provision in the U.S. tax code that prohibits non-profit organizations from endorsing or opposing political candidates.
“And one of the things I’m most proud of is the Johnson Amendment. You can now speak your mind and speak it freely. I said I was going to do that. I told Paula White, who I want to thank so much for everything she’s done,” the president said.
“That was one of the things I said. They took away your voice politically, and these are the people I want to listen to politically, but you weren’t allowed to speak. They would lose their tax-exempt status. That’s not happening anymore, so we got rid of the Johnson Amendment. That’s a big thing,” he said.
As CNSNews.com previously reported, in May 2017, Trump signed the Presidential Executive Order Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty, which ordered the Treasury Department not to enforce the Johnson Amendment.
The executive order calls on the Treasury Department not to “take any adverse action against any individual, house of worship, or other religious organization on the basis that such individual or organization speaks or has spoken about moral or political issues from a religious perspective, where speech of similar character has, consistent with law, not ordinarily been treated as participation or intervention in a political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) a candidate for public office by the Department of the Treasury."
The executive order did not repeal the amendment itself, and congressional efforts to repeal it have so far failed. However, Republican lawmakers re-introduced a bill in February to do just that.
Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), House Republican Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) and Reps. Jody Hice (R-Ga.) and Mike Johnson (R-La.) re-introduced legislation in February to repeal the Johnson Amendment’s censorship of non-profit employees, including religious leaders, and restore their First Amendment rights.