As global leaders gathered at UN Headquarters on Monday to present their plans to combat climate change, United States President Donald Trump put the spotlight on the need to safeguard religious freedom worldwide.
Mr. Trump explained that freedom of religion is enshrined in the US Constitution and protected under the Bill of Rights, the name given to the first 10 amendments to the Constitution.
“Regrettably, the religious freedom enjoyed by American citizens is rare in the world. Approximately 80 per cent of the world’s population live in countries where religious liberty is threatened, restricted or even banned”, he said.
A fanfare played as President Trump and UN Secretary-General António Guterres entered the packed conference room, flanked by US Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and the country’s newly-arrived UN Ambassador, Kelly Craft.
For the UN chief, it is “totally unacceptable” that people would face religious discrimination in the 21st century.
Mr. Guterres said it broke his heart to see increasing numbers of people being publicly humiliated, harassed and attacked because of their religion or beliefs.
“Jews have been murdered in synagogues, their gravestones defaced with swastikas; Muslims gunned down in mosques, their religious sites vandalized; Christians killed at prayer, their churches torched. And in many hotspots around the world, entire communities have been targeted because of their faith – including in places where those communities have existed for centuries, if not millennia,” he said.
The Secretary-General reminded the audience of two recent UN initiatives to step up action against religious intolerance. They seek to address the root causes of hate speech and to support efforts to safeguard religious sites and houses of worship.
“The best way to promote international religious freedom is by uniting our voices for good, countering messages of hate with messages of peace, embracing diversity and protecting human rights everywhere,” he stated.
President Trump called on countries to end religious persecution, repeal laws that restrict freedom of religion and belief, and increase prosecution for crimes against religious communities, among other measures.
His administration will dedicate an additional $25 million to protect religious freedom, religious sites and relics. Other steps to be taken include establishing an International Freedom Alliance to confront religious persecution, and the appointing of a Special Envoy to monitor antisemitism.
Three people—a Christian woman from Iran, a Jewish rabbi from Yemen, and the daughter of an economist from China’s Uighur Muslim minority —were invited to address how religious intolerance has affected their lives.