(CNSNews.com) - President Donald Trump marked the National Day of Prayer by signing an executive order aimed at helping faith-based groups gain “equal access to government funding” and to ensure they have “equal right to exercise” their religious beliefs.
“I will soon be signing an executive order to create a faith initiative at the White House. The faith initiative will help design new policies that recognize the vital role of faith in our families, our communities, and our great country. This office will also help ensure that faith-based organizations have equal access to government funding and the equal right to exercise their deeply held beliefs,” Trump said in a Rose Garden ceremony.
“We take this step because we know that, in solving the many, many problems and our great challenges, faith is more powerful than government, and nothing is more powerful than God,” he said.
Trump detailed the steps he and his administration have taken to defend religious liberty.
“Last year on this day, I took executive action to prevent the Johnson Amendment - a disaster- from interfering with our First Amendment rights. I was so proud of that,” he said.
“Across the government, we have taken action to defend the religious conscience of doctors, nurses, teachers, students, and groups like the Little Sisters of the Poor. In January of this year, I was proud to be the first president to stand here in the Rose Garden to address the March for Life. A very special day,” the president said.
“And my administration has spoken out against religious persecution around the world, including the persecution of many, many Christians. What's going on is horrible, and we're taking action,” Trump said.
He also took time to recognize the late Rev. Billy Graham, who died in February.
“As we gather this morning, our thoughts also turn to the memory of a man who awakened the light of God in the hearts of millions of America’s pastors, and that’s the great legendary wonderful Billy Graham,” the president said.
“Today we remember the words of Reverend Graham: ‘Prayer is the key that opens us, the treasures of God’s mercies and blessings.’ Always beautiful,” Trump said.
The president introduced and told the story of a man named Jon Ponder, who found God while serving time in prison for bank robbery.
“Jon grew up without his father. As he tells it, ‘My mother was strong, but she wasn't able to keep us out of the gangs and off the streets.’ Right? Jon was in and out of jail for years until, at age 38, he was arrested for bank robbery. You don't look like a bank robber, Jon. He's come a long way,” Trump said.
“Jon soon ended up in federal prison, relegated to solitary confinement. That's where God found him. Jon began to read the Bible and listen to Christian radio,” the president said.
“One morning, at 2 a.m., he woke up to the voice of the great Billy Graham. Reverend Graham's words came through the airwaves, ‘Jesus wants to be Lord of your life.’ That night, Jon dedicated his life to Christ. He spent the rest of his time in prison praying, studying the Bible, and bringing the Lord to his fellow inmates,” Trump recounted.
“The day after Jon's release, a visitor knocked on his door. It was the man who put him in jail, FBI Special Agent Richard Beasley -- who is here,” the president said.
"‘I want you to know that I've been praying for you very strongly,’ he said, that, ‘God called me to the FBI in part because of you, Jon.’ The two are now lifelong friends,” Trump said.
“Jon runs a ministry that has helped more than 2,000 former inmates rejoin society, and he's the talk of the country. The job Jon does is incredible. Jon and Richard, you are a living testament to the power of prayer. Your story reminds us that prayer changes hearts and transforms lives. It uplifts the soul, inspires action, and unites us all as one nation, under God,” Trump said.
“And we say it here. You know, a lot of people -- they don't say it, ut you know what? They're starting to say it more. Just like we're starting to say, ‘Merry Christmas’ when that day comes around,” the president said.
“Today we gather to remember this truth: We thank God for the faith of our people. We praise God for the blessings of freedom, and we ask God to forever bless this magnificent land that we all love so much,” Trump concluded.