In a speech during the United Nations General Assembly, United States President Donald Trump announced a “global call to protect religious freedom.”
His speech was the first time that a sitting US President has ever spoken on the issue of religious freedom at the UN.
“Religious freedom is a fundamental right that all countries are called to protect,” said Kelsey Zorzi, ADF International’s Director of Global Religious Freedom and President of the UN’s NGO Committee on Freedom of Religion or Belief.
“The President’s speech was an important and historic moment precisely because religious freedom is too often ignored or downplayed at the UN. At a time when persecution is on the rise and over 80% of the world’s population lives in countries with high restrictions on religious freedom, every country should make securing religious freedom a high priority.”
The goal of President Trump’s speech was to highlight and broaden international support for religious freedom. He spoke of increasing attacks on houses of worship and religious sites.
Over 150 foreign leaders, faith leaders, victims of persecution, and religious freedom activists attended for the President’s speech.
Vice President Mike Pence also gave an opening remark.
Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”
Religious freedom has become a central pillar of US foreign policy. In July 2019, the State Department hosted over 100 foreign delegations and 1000 civil society members during its second Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom.
President Trump also met with more than 30 victims of persecution in the Oval Office at that time. He was expected to raise the issue with multiple heads of state in bilateral discussions during high-level week at the UN General Assembly.
The United States also hosted side events on the mass detention of Uyghur Muslims in China, and on the links between religious freedom and economic development.
The 74th session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA 74) opened in New York, on September 17, 2019.