Vice President Mike Pence hailed President Donald Trump as a “champion of the freedom of religion” in a speech at the World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians in Washington, D.C., on Thursday.
Pence spoke of the administration’s deep commitment to defending faith around the world, their need to destroy ISIS, and create an America where people can practice faith according to their conscience.
“I’m here on behalf of Donald Trump as a tangible sign of his commitment to defending Christians and frankly all who suffer for their beliefs across the wide world,” Pence told a crowd of about 600 people. “We stand here today as a testament to the president’s tangible commitment to reaffirm America’s role as a beacon of hope and light and liberty to inspire the world.”
While Pence didn't point to any specific policies, many have pointed to the Trump administration's travel ban that would temporarily bar travelers from six majority-Muslim countries as invoking a religious test, and a previous version of the executive order would have prioritized persecuted religious minorities. Dubbed the “Muslim Ban,” this order was halted by several federal judges and led to massive protests around the country.
The Trump administration also signed an executive order last week that lifts a ban on religious organizations engaging in political activity, a move met with mixed reactions among many faith leaders in the country.
Hosted by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and keynoted by Franklin Graham, the summit focused on highlighting the Christians around the world who are tortured, murdered, and discriminated against because of their faith.
On Wednesday evening, Franklin Graham, Billy Graham’s son, spoke on the necessity of spotlighting Christian persecution around the world as well as in the U.S., calling the treatment of Christians around the world a “Christian genocide.”
“In the name of tolerance, Christians are often treated with intolerance because they stand for moral purity and they stand for God’s truth,” he said.
Open Doors — a nonprofit watchdog group that tracks Christian persecution — reports there are about 322 Christians killed for their faith each month. That statistic conflicts with Graham’s claims in his speech that said there were 100,000 Christians killed each year across the globe.
Graham, who has been criticized for his views on Islam as well as his longtime support for Trump, accused Islam and secularism of being extremely hostile toward Christianity.
“The rising tide of modern secularism is strongly anti-Christian,” he said. “Secularists are especially hostile.”
Both Graham and Pence named ISIS as a significant threat to Christians. Pence said ISIS will be stopped under Trump’s administration, a line met with rigorous applause from the audience.
“We will not rest and we will not relent until we hunt down and destroy ISIS at its source,” Pence said.
The three-day conference has attendants from more than 130 countries and covers topics such as Religious Extremism and Militarism, Oppressive States and Governments, Secularist Agendas, Evangelizing to Tribal people, and Christian Traditionalism.
The final plenary session will be held on Friday at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C.