President Donald Trump urged nations across the world to protect religious freedom Monday in a speech to the United Nations General Assembly.
Trump, the first U.S. president to highlight religious freedom at the UN, said America will set aside $25 million to fund the effort and form a coalition of businesses dedicated to protecting religious freedom, according to CNN.
“Today, with one clear voice, the United States of America calls upon the nations of the world to end religious persecution. Stop the crimes against people of faith,” Trump said. “Release prisoners of conscience. Repeal laws restricting freedom of religion and belief. Protect the vulnerable, the defenseless and the oppressed.”
Trump cited data indicating that about 80 percent of the world population live in countries where religious liberties are threatened. He said he was shocked to learn that the percentage is so high.
“As we speak, Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, many other people of faith are being jailed, sanctioned, tortured and even murdered even at the hands of their own government simply for expressing their deeply held religious beliefs,” he said.
Religious and pro-life leaders praised the president for prioritizing the issue.
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Family Research Council President Tony Perkins said he was encouraged to see Trump taking tangible steps to protect people of faith.
“Not only is religious freedom a fundamental human right, as recognized by the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but there is a growing body of research that shows that nations that uphold religious freedom have greater social and economic security – which indirectly makes all nations more secure, including the United States,” Perkins said.
Kelsey Zorzi, internal director of global religious freedom at Alliance Defending Freedom and president of the United Nations’ NGO Committee on Freedom of Religion or Belief, also thanked the president for taking action to protect the fundamental right.
“The president’s speech is an important and historic moment precisely because religious freedom is too often ignored or downplayed at the UN,” she said. “At a time when persecution is on the rise, and over 80 percent of the world’s population lives in countries with high restrictions on religious freedom, every country should make securing religious freedom a high priority.”
The issue is extremely important for pro-life advocates as well. Though pro-lifers come from all walks of life, many are convicted to protect unborn babies because of deeply held religious beliefs.
Right now, the Trump administration is fighting for the rights of a nurse who says her Vermont hospital misled and then coerced her into helping abort an unborn baby against her conscience. Four other nurses at the hospital have made similar complaints to the U.S. Office of Civil Rights, according to the Trump administration.
And in 2011, a group of nurses at the University of Medicine and Dentistry in Newark, New Jersey, said their employer tried to force them to help with elective abortions. The nurses sued and won, but similar reports of conscience violations continue to occur.
Conscience protections and other religious freedom measures are a problem across the world. In Sweden, a nurse midwife named Ellinor Grimmark said she was fired from her position because she refused to assist with abortions – even though there was a shortage of midwives at the time.
And in Ireland, which legalized abortion in January, doctors and nurses fear losing their jobs because of the limited conscience protections in their new abortion law.
Greater protections are needed for pro-life and religious individuals all across the world as reports indicate that their livelihoods, their homes and even their lives are being threatened.