Remarks by President Trump in Meeting with Survivors of Religious Persecution
White House Oval Office Washington D.C. July 17 4:22 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon. We'll be leaving for North Carolina in a short while. I think some of you will be outside. Tremendous crowds in North Carolina. Tremendous crowds everywhere.
But we have a very important group of people standing alongside of me. I'm honored to welcome Pastor Andrew Brunson and other survivors of religious persecution to the White House.
We're grateful to be joined by Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback - a former governor, as you know; as well as Pastor Paula White - a tremendous religious leader and a friend of the White House, a friend of the presidency, and a friend of the President.
With us today are men and women of many different religious traditions from many different countries. But what you have in common is each of you has suffered tremendously for your faith. You've endured harassment, threats, attacks, trials, imprisonment, and torture. I got to know many of you and helped you get some - get some of you out of the difficult situation that you were in. I'm very proud of you in the way you've reacted to a different life. It is a tremendous thing.
Your families are very proud, and our country is very proud, and your countries are very proud - for those of you that aren't from the United States. Each of you has now become a witness to the importance of advancing religious liberty all around the world. It's about religious liberty.
Last year, my administration hosted the world's first-ever meeting of foreign ministers devoted solely to the subject of international religious freedom. I want to thank all of you for joining us as we host this meeting for the second year in a row. A lot of individual breakout meetings are being had, and we're getting a lot of ideas as to how we can help.
In America, we've always understood that our rights come from God, not from government. In our Bill of Rights, the first liberty is religious liberty. Each of us has the right to follow the dictates of our conscience and the demands of our religious conviction. We know that if people are not free to practice their faith, then all of the freedoms are at risk and, frankly, freedoms don't mean very much.
That's why Americans will never tire in our effort to defend and promote religious freedom. I don't think any President has taken it as seriously as me. To me, it's very important. It's vital. It's really vital.
And I just want to thank everybody very much for being with us today. You've been through a lot. And I think I can say it for everyone here: You've been through a lot - more than most people could ever endure. And I want to congratulate you because that's what you need, is congratulations. It's really an honor to be with you, and I will stand side by side with you forever.
If I could ask Ambassador Brownback to say a few words, please.
AMBASSADOR BROWNBACK: Yes. Thanks, Mr. President.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you.
AMBASSADOR BROWNBACK: Appreciate it. Thank you and your administration for your leadership on this. Last year was the first; this year is the largest meeting ever held in the world on religious freedom - just on this, devoted to this topic. And with you here today, we have a Nobel Peace Prize winner, Nadia Murad, who was taken by ISIS and made into a - well, horrible situation that she's in. But she's been an outstanding advocate.
And then we have helped - this government has - in rebuilding Northern Iraq, the Yazidi and the Christian area.
THE PRESIDENT: That's right.
AMBASSADOR BROWNBACK: Of course, Andrew Brunson and I both - neither of us would be here if it wasn't for you. And, Andrew, you busted out of a Turkish prison. This gentleman was at Christchurch in the shootings at the mosque that took place that was there.
THE PRESIDENT: Wow.
AMBASSADOR BROWNBACK: And you have, really, people - well, Mariam Ibraheem is here. Was in a Sudanese jail while she was pregnant and had a death penalty for her. But people advocated for her around the world, and she and her child are alive today. And that's just a few.
THE PRESIDENT: We got you out. That's good. That's great.
AMBASSADOR BROWNBACK: That's just a few.
THE PRESIDENT: You're feeling good? Everything fine?
MS. IBRAHEEM: I'm feeling very well.
THE PRESIDENT: Good.
MS. IBRAHEEM: My children are very well.
THE PRESIDENT: Okay. Congratulations.
MS. IBRAHEEM: Thank you.
AMBASSADOR BROWNBACK: Reverend Samson was going to make a comment for the group. He's from Burma. He's Kachin Christian, and they have suffered greatly there as well, and we've worked a lot with them.
Reverend Samson, you want to tell, briefly, your story?
REVEREND SAMSON: Yes. Yes. I'm (inaudible) from Baptist Convention from Northern Burma. And then, as Christians in Myanmar, we are very been oppressed and tortured by the Myanmar military government. So - and then we don't have chance, many, for religious freedom. And also, ethnic armed groups fight against to the central military government. So, please, American government focus on ethnic people and the ethnic leader to get general democracy and federalism. It is very important for your (inaudible) and for your (inaudible).
And then thank you very much for your sanction yesterday. It was very helpful.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes. Yes. We did something. Thank you. Appreciate it very much. Thank you very much.
Ambassador, so which is more important? You were the governor of a great state - a very, very top state, in my opinion. And you're doing, now, something for religious liberty and freedom. Which is tougher and which is more important to you?
AMBASSADOR BROWNBACK: I think of all the jobs I've had - I've been a congressman, a senator, a governor - this is the most important because it's about billions of people.
THE PRESIDENT: It's really something.
AMBASSADOR BROWNBACK: These folks here represent the faiths of billions of people around the world. And the United States is the main country - not the only; and many other allies are coming along - but we're the main country to stand up and fight for their religious freedom. And we're not picking a winner or loser. We're just saying, look, you've got - governments have to protect this right. And that's why, to me, this job and what this administration is doing to protect it affects billions of people. And I'm - I think it's incredible. It's an incredible opportunity.
THE PRESIDENT: So when you say other countries are coming along - and some aren't coming along, I assume. Right?
AMBASSADOR BROWNBACK: Yes.
THE PRESIDENT: Some are not doing much. Who are the good ones? I won't talk about the bad ones because I know who the bad ones are. Who are the good ones?
AMBASSADOR BROWNBACK: You know, the British have been great. They've been putting out some reports lately on the persecution of people of faith, and they've stepped up more aggressively. UAE - United Arab Emirates - hosted the first-ever papal visit on the Arabian Peninsula in the history of mankind.
THE PRESIDENT: That's great.
AMBASSADOR BROWNBACK: And they've been - they've been stepping up and doing - doing a lot - a lot more.
THE PRESIDENT: That's good.
AMBASSADOR BROWNBACK: So, several - the Europeans have been; the South Americans are starting to step up more so. We need more.
THE PRESIDENT: You're doing a great job. Thank you very much.
AMBASSADOR BROWNBACK: Thank you.
THE PRESIDENT: Paula White? Could you say a few words, Paula, please?
MS. WHITE: Yes, sir.
MS. LHAMO: Sorry, it's just - I'm from Tibet. It's my dream to visit - this opportunity to visit the President (inaudible). Tibetan need - (inaudible) Tibetan need (inaudible) support, please. We need support (inaudible) His Holiness -
THE PRESIDENT: Support, yeah.
MS. LHAMO: Yeah. His Holiness Dalai Lama (inaudible) come back in Tibet. My English is not good, but -
THE PRESIDENT: No, it's fine.
MS. LHAMO: Thank you so much for this opportunity to gather and share the story. Thank you.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much.
MS. LHAMO: Thank you so much.
THE PRESIDENT: Please say hello. Please say hello. Okay?
MS. LHAMO: Thank you.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. I appreciate it. And your English is actually very good.
MS. LHAMO: Thank you.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you.