President Donald Trump on Thursday called for prayers for Venezuela, addressed recent attacks against places of worship and told the gathered audience that he got through “witch hunts” thinking about God, during the White House’s National Day of Prayer services.
Trump invited several people of faith to the Rose Garden stage to address the audience, which included Vice President Mike Pence and his wife, Karen. The speakers Trump introduced included congregants of the Chabad of Poway in California, which lost one worshiper to gunfire inside the synagogue five days ago.
Following an introductory prayer from first lady Melania Trump, the President offered prayers to the people of Venezuela before going on to praise his administration’s efforts on religious freedom.
“Today we give thanks for this magnificent country and we proudly come together as one nation under God. And one of the things that Mike and I were discussing just a little while ago, people are proud to be using that beautiful word: God,” Trump told the audience of Cabinet members, administration staff and faith leaders.
“And they’re using the word ‘God’ again, and they’re not hiding from it. And they’re not being told to take it down,” he said, also resurfacing his longtime claim that under his administration, retail patrons can again say “Merry Christmas” in stores.
He made a quick reference to “witch hunts,” saying, “People say, ‘How do you get through that stuff?’”
“How do you go through those witch hunts and everything else? And you know what we do, Mike (Pence)? We just do it. Right? And we think about God,” Trump added.
Recent acts of violence against houses of worship
Trump also addressed recent acts of mass violence against different houses of worship across the globe, including the three historically black churches in Louisiana that were destroyed by arson.
“In recent months, it’s been pretty tough. We’ve seen evil and hate-filled attacks on religious communities in the United States and all around the world,” Trump said. “One month ago, three historically black churches were burned tragically in Louisiana. In Sri Lanka and New Zealand, hundreds of Christians and Muslims were brutally murdered at their places of worship. In October, an anti-Semitic killer attacked the Tree of Life synagogue.”
The President brought congregants of the Poway synagogue up to the Rose Garden stage, including one off-duty Border Patrol agent who tried to shoot the killer.
Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, whose fingers were shot off during the Chabad of Poway shooting, called Trump a “mensch par excellence” for his comforting words.
Moves on religious conscience objections
Trump announced new actions on protections for conscience rights during the service.
Speaking about how the “bedrock” of American life is the belief that “every person has the right to live,” Trump said.
“To protect this heritage, my administration has strongly defended religious liberty – two words you haven’t heard too much about for a long period of time, but now you’re hearing about it all the time: Religious liberty,” he said.
“Earlier this week, I took action to ensure that federal employees can take paid time off to observe religious holy days and just today we finalized new protections of conscience rights for physicians, pharmacists, nurses, teachers, students and faith-based charities. They’ve been wanting to do that a long time,” Trump said.
The event ended in prayers by members of several different religions.
CNN’s Allie Malloy contributed to this report.