Trump headlines religious freedom event at UN

President TrumpDonald John TrumpZuckerberg launches public defense of Facebook as attacks mount Trump leaning toward keeping a couple hundred troops in eastern Syria: report Warren says making Israel aid conditional on settlement building is 'on the table' MORE headlined a religious freedom event at the United Nations General Assembly on Monday, emphasizing his administration's efforts to uphold the rights of members of all faiths around the world.

Trump described protecting religious freedom as one of his “highest priorities” and called on other nations to halt persecution of religious communities.

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“Today with one clear voice, the United States of America calls upon the nations of the world to end religious persecution,” Trump said, prompting a round of applause.

“To stop the crimes against people of faith, release prisoners of conscience, repeal laws restricting freedom of religion and belief, protect the vulnerable, the defenseless and the oppressed,” Trump continued, adding that the United States “stands with believers in every country.”

Trump said he plans to dedicate $25 million to protecting religious freedom and religious sites and relics. The president also announced the formation of a new coalition of U.S. businesses focused on religious freedom that he said would “encourage the private sector to protect people of all faiths in the workplace.”

Trump was joined by Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoGOP lawmaker: Trump administration 'playing checkers' in Syria while others are 'playing chess' Trump-Graham relationship tested by week of public sparring White House officials work to tamp down controversies after a tumultuous week MORE, Vice President Pence, and newly confirmed U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Kelly Craft, each of whom spoke at the event. U.N. Secretary General António Guterres also delivered brief remarks after Trump.

Pence, who introduced Trump, noting that he is the first American president to host an event on religious freedom at the U.N.

Trump kicked off his 10-minute remarks by claiming that his administration “obliterated” the Johnson amendment, a provision in the U.S. tax code prohibiting political activities by nonprofit organizations like churches. While the law still exists, Trump signed an executive order in his first year designed to relax restrictions on religious groups engaging in political activities.

“We’ve done a lot,” Trump said. “The Johnson amendment doesn’t get spoken enough a lot, but I’m very proud to say we’ve obliterated the Johnson amendment in our country.”

Trump condemned persecution of Christians, Muslims, Jews, Yazidis and others around the world, saying some 80 percent of the global population lives in countries where religious freedom is threatened.

Trump rattled off several examples of his administration’s efforts to uphold religious freedom, pointing to the State Department’s creation of an International Religious Freedom Alliance and his appointment of a special envoy to combat anti-Semitism.

Trump also mentioned his administration’s successful efforts to secure the release of American pastor Andrew Brunson from Turkey.

“We did a good job with that negotiation, Andrew — you got back,” Trump said, gesturing to Brunson, who was in the crowd.

The president also referenced a July White House meeting with survivors of religious persecution, noting some of the attendees were in the audience on Monday.

"Some of these individuals suffered as a result of state-sponsored persecution, others in the hands of terrorists, criminals,” Trump said. “America will always be a voice for victims of religious persecution everywhere. No matter where you go, you have a place in the United States of America."

Before headlining the religious event at the U.N., Trump briefly attended a climate summit, an unexpected appearance made after he sparked criticism for skipping an event on climate change at last month’s Group of Seven meeting.

The president is expected to participate in several bilateral meetings with world leaders later Monday at the U.N., and will deliver remarks before the General Assembly on Tuesday.