11:39 A.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, everyone. Thank you very much. (Applause.) Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you very much to Vice President Mike Pence. I am very fortunate to have Mike with me. He’s a man of very deep faith, I can tell you that, great character and conviction. And, Mike, thank you very much for making this journey with me and with all of us. Believe me, it’s been great to have you.
I also want to thank Pastor Jack Graham, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, and Rabbi Marvin Hier for leading us so beautifully in prayer. Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you. (Applause.)
I also want to mention, as you know, Cardinal DiNardo and all of the other great faith leaders that we have. I see Franklin Graham. So many are here. So many great friends. So many great supporters. And we very much appreciate it. Because we’re a nation of believers. (Applause.) Faith is deeply embedded into the history of our country, the spirit of our founding, and the soul of our nation.
It is a beautiful thing to see three faith leaders, from three very different faith traditions, come together to lift up our nation in prayer. And it’s great to do it at the White House, isn’t it? Isn’t that great? (Applause.)
Because not only are we a nation of faith, but we’re a nation of tolerance. As we look at the violence around the world — and believe me, it’s violent; I get to see it perhaps better than anybody — we realize how truly blessed we are to live in a nation that honors the freedom of worship. Today, my administration is leading by example as we take historic steps to protect religious liberty in the United States of America. (Applause.)
We will not allow people of faith to be targeted, bullied, or silenced anymore. (Applause.) And we will never, ever stand for religious discrimination. Never, ever. (Applause.)
Tolerance is the cornerstone of peace. And that is why I am proud to make a major and historic announcement this morning and to share with you that my first foreign trip as President of the United States will be to Saudi Arabia, then Israel, and then to a place that my cardinals love very much, Rome. (Applause.)
These visits will take place ahead of the NATO and G7 meetings, and will begin with a truly historic gathering in Saudi Arabia with leaders from all across the Muslim world. Saudi Arabia is the custodian of the two holiest sites in Islam, and it is there that we will begin to construct a new foundation of cooperation and support with our Muslim allies to combat extremism, terrorism and violence, and to embrace a more just and hopeful future for young Muslims in their countries. (Applause.)
Our task is not to dictate to others how to live, but to build a coalition of friends and partners who share the goal of fighting terrorism and bringing safety, opportunity and stability to the war-ravaged Middle East. (Applause.)
We all pray that we can make a difference. We pray for peace. Just over 150 years ago, President Lincoln called for a National Day of Prayer — today — after he feared that we were becoming a nation “too proud to pray to the God that made us.” (Applause.)
Today, we recall President Lincoln’s words as we sign a proclamation designating today as National Day of Prayer. That’s what we want — a National Day of Prayer. And it’s so great to be doing it in the Rose Garden. How beautiful is that? (Applause.) It was looking like you’d never get here, folks, but you got here. (Applause.) Thank you. Thank you very much. So true.
And we remember this eternal truth: Freedom is not a gift from government, freedom is a gift from God. (Applause.) It was Thomas Jefferson who said, “The God who gave us life, gave us liberty.” Our Founding Fathers believed that religious liberty was so fundamental that they enshrined it in the very First Amendment of our great and beloved Constitution.
Yet for too long, the federal government has used the power of the state as a weapon against people of faith — bullying and even punishing Americans for following their religious beliefs. That’s been happening. That is why I am signing, today, an executive order to defend the freedom of religion and speech in America — the freedoms that we’ve wanted, the freedoms that you fought for so long. And we are doing it in just a little while, right over here. (Applause.) Thank you. Thank you all. Thank you.
No American should be forced to choose between the dictates of the federal government and the tenets of their faith. As I campaigned across the country, faith leaders explained that they were prevented from speaking their minds because of a 1954 rule known as the Johnson Amendment. I spoke about it a lot. Under this rule, if a pastor, priest, or imam speaks about issues of public or political importance, they are threatened with the loss of their tax-exempt status — a crippling financial punishment. Very, very unfair. But no longer.
I promised to take action, if I won. If I didn’t win, I gave you no promise, that’s for sure. (Laughter.) If I didn’t win, I guess I’d be gone, right? I’d be out enjoying my life, I think. (Laughter.) But I wouldn’t be helping you with the Johnson Amendment. And to this end, this financial threat against the faith community is over. (Applause.)
In just a few moments, I will be signing an executive order to follow through on that pledge and to prevent the Johnson Amendment from interfering with your First Amendment rights. And you’re the people I want to listen to. Other people are allowed to tell me and everybody what to do. I want to hear it from you and so do a lot of other people. So you’re now in a position where you can say what you want to say. And I know you’ll only say good and you’ll say what’s in your heart. And what’s what we want from you. You are great, great people. You are great, great people. Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you.
This executive order directs the IRS not to unfairly target churches and religious organizations for political speech. No one should be censoring sermons or targeting pastors. (Applause.) And I know one thing — it never stopped Dr. Ben Carson. He said, the heck with the Johnson Amendment. Right, Ben? I’ve been with Ben, and he did what he wanted to do. (Laughter.) But not everybody is going to do that, Ben, you know that, right?
In America, we do not fear people speaking freely from the pulpit — we embrace it. America has a rich tradition of social change beginning in our pews and our pulpits. Perhaps there is no greater example than the historic role of the African-American church as the agent for social progress, spurring our nation to greater justice and equality. We must never infringe on the noble tradition of change from the church and progress from the pew. (Applause.) Thank you. Thank you.
Under my administration, free speech does not end at the steps of a cathedral or a synagogue, or any other house of worship. We are giving our churches their voices back. We are giving them back in the highest form. With this executive order, we also make clear that the federal government will never, ever penalize any person for their protected religious beliefs. (Applause.)
That is why I am today directing the Department of Justice to develop new rules to ensure these religious protections are afforded to all Americans. There are — more than 50 religious Americans and groups sued the previous — and you’ve seen that — 50 sued the previous administration for violating their religious freedom.
The abuses were widespread. The abuses were all over. As just one example, people were forbidden from giving or receiving religious items at a military hospital where our brave service members were being treated and where they wanted those religious items. These were great, great people. These are great soldiers. They wanted those items. They were precluded from getting them.
And we know all too well the attacks against the Little Sisters of the Poor — (applause) — incredible nuns who care for the sick, the elderly and the forgotten. Where are they, by the way? Where are they? Could you stand, sisters? Stand. Come on up here, sister. Come on up. Right? (Applause.) Come on up. (Applause.) Congratulations. They sort of just won a lawsuit. That was pretty good. (Laughter.) That’s a good way of doing it, huh?
Well, I want you to know that your long ordeal will soon be over. It’s been a long, hard ordeal. (Applause.) We’ve all been watching. Some of you have been very much involved. A lot of us have been watching the news for years
PARTICIPANT: Five years.
THE PRESIDENT: Five years. You had good lawyers?
THE PRESIDENT: Where are your lawyers? Stand up. Come on, stand up. (Applause.) Good job. Do you mind if I use your lawyers? I could use some good lawyers too. (Laughter.) Good job. Great job.
With this executive order, we are ending the attacks on your religious liberty, and we are proudly reaffirming America’s leadership role as a nation that protects religious freedom for everyone. (Applause.)
Over 60 years ago, the IRS went after one of the greatest leaders in history — Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. It is a sobering reminder of the need for vigilance. The words of Reverend King, and other religious leaders, have awakened the conscience of millions and millions of Americans, and inspired us to act in the name of peace, justice, freedom, and charity. Every president must work to protect — and we have to do this; we have no choice to do this. We have absolutely no choice — to protect these hard-fought gains. They have been hard-fought. They have been fought for so many years, for so many decades, for so many centuries. And this is a very special day, perhaps, for that reason.
And that’s why we are here today: To defend the rights of all Americans; to honor our great Constitution; and to protect the sacred liberties given to us not by any earthly power, but by our Creator in heaven. (Applause.)
I’d like to thank all of you great, great religious leaders for being with us today. We have some of our political leaders. You’re going to have to — (laughter) — they know, they know. Today is a very big day. We have a big vote coming up in a little while. And I thought it was very appropriate that it turned out to be you folks, and then I have to deal with those politicians. (Laughter.) But they’re good. I will tell you, they’re good. They work very hard, and hopefully we’re going to have a wonderful day and a wonderful vote, and we’re going to take care of a lot of people — great, great people from this country — with their healthcare and their healthcare needs. And we hope to be able to do that. And we have all fought very hard to be able to do that.
So I want to say to everybody in attendance and everybody in our country, and everybody in the world: God bless you, and God bless America. Thank you all very much. Thank you. Thank you. (Applause.)
This is National Day of Prayer. We like that, don’t we?
(The proclamation is signed.) (Applause.)
So who’s getting this pen, Mr. Vice President? In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King. (Applause.)
This is promoting and the promotion of free speech and religious liberty. That’s a big one. That’s as big as it gets, right?
(The executive order is signed.) (Applause.)
Thank you very much, everybody. Fantastic to have you. We really appreciate. Very special. These are two very, very special executive orders, and an honor to have everybody here. Thank you all. (Applause.)
11:59 A.M. EDT