9:11 A.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Well, thank you very much. I’m working very hard for you, I will tell you. (Laughter.) And sometimes you don’t make it easy, and I certainly don’t make it easy on you. (Laughter.) And I will continue that tradition, if I might, this morning. And, Arthur, I don’t know if I agree with you. (Laughter.) But I don’t know if Arthur is going to like what I’m going to say. (Laughter.) But I love listening to you. It’s really great. Thank you very much.
And thank you, congressmen, for the great job you’ve been doing and the relationship and the help. You’re a warrior. Thank you very much. And, Kevin, you’re a warrior. Thank you. The job you’ve done is incredible. It wasn’t supposed to be that way. A lot of extra work. Unnecessary work.
It’s wonderful to be with the thousands of religious believers for the 68th annual National Prayer Breakfast. I’ve been here from the first one, where I had the privilege of being asked. I’ve been with you for a long time before then. And we’ve made tremendous progress. Tremendous progress. You know what we’ve done. I don’t think anybody has done more than all of us together during these last three years. And it’s been my honor.
But this morning, we come together as one nation, blessed to live in freedom and grateful to worship in peace. As everybody knows, my family, our great country, and your President, have been put through a terrible ordeal by some very dishonest and corrupt people. They have done everything possible to destroy us, and by so doing, very badly hurt our nation. They know what they are doing is wrong, but they put themselves far ahead of our great country.
Weeks ago, and again yesterday, courageous Republican politicians and leaders had the wisdom, the fortitude, and strength to do what everyone knows was right. I don’t like people who use their faith as justification for doing what they know is wrong. Nor do I like people who say, “I pray for you,” when they know that that’s not so.
So many people have been hurt, and we can’t let that go on. And I’ll be discussing that a little bit later at the White House.
We’re joined today by two people whose faith inspires us all: our amazing, wonderful friend, Vice President Mike Pence — (applause) — and his wonderful wife, Karen. (Applause.) Thank you. Thank you.
Thank you to all of our great political leaders out there — so many that I’ve been working with so hard over the last three years. And we’ve accomplished so much. And to members of my Cabinet in attendance — Secretary Mike Pompeo, Mark Esper, David Bernhardt — (applause) — Gene Scalia, Alex Azar, Ben Carson, Dan Brouillette, Betsy DeVos, Robert Wilke, and Administrator Jovita Carranza.
Joining us — (applause) — for this cherished tradition are a lot of friends in the audience. And many, really, have become friends. They are political leaders. They’ve become great friends. That’s all I get to meet anymore. (Laughter.) That and the enemies and the allies. And we have them all. We have allies. We have enemies. Sometimes the allies are enemies, but we just don’t know it. (Laughter.) But we’re changing all that. But thank you all, and thank you all for being here.
I also want to welcome foreign dignitaries from more than 140 countries. That’s something. (Applause.) That’s something. Everyone here today is united by a shared conviction. We know that our nation is stronger, our future is brighter, and our joy is greater when we turn to God and ask him to shed his grace on our lives.
On Tuesday, I addressed Congress on the state of the Union and the great American comeback. That’s what it is. (Applause.) Our country has never done better than it is doing right now. Our economy is the strongest it has ever been. And for those of you that are interested in stocks, it looks like the stock market will be way up again today.
According to the latest Gallup poll that just came out a little while ago, a few minutes ago, American satisfaction is at the highest level ever recorded. Can you imagine? And that’s from Gallup — no friend of mine. (Applause.) Ninety percent of Americans say they are satisfied with their personal lives. How about that? Isn’t that something? Just came out today. (Applause.) They must have known I was going to be here. (Laughter.)
In everything we do, we are creating a culture that protects freedom, and that includes religious freedom. (Applause.)
As I said on Tuesday in the House Chamber, “In America, we don’t punish prayer. We don’t tear down crosses. We don’t ban symbols of faith. We don’t muzzle preachers.” We don’t muzzle pastors. “In America, we celebrate faith, we cherish religion, we lift our voices in prayer, and we raise our sights to the Glory of God.” (Applause.)
So much of the greatness we have achieved, the mysteries we’ve unlocked, and the wonders we’ve built, the challenges we’ve met, and the incredible heights that we’ve reached has come from the faith of our families and the prayers of our people.
Before America declared independence, patriots in all 13 colonies came together in days of fasting and prayer. In the bitter cold of Valley Forge, Washington and his men had no food, no supplies, and very little chance of victory. It reminded me a little bit of 2016. We had very little chance of victory. (Laughter.) Except for the people in this room and some others believed we were going to win. I believed we were going to win. But what they did have was have an unwavering belief that God was with them. I believe that too. God is with the people in this room.
Before a single skyscraper rose up in New York City, thousands of poor American families donated all they could to build the magnificent St. Patrick’s Cathedral. (Applause.)
When Buzz Aldrin landed on the Moon, he said, “Houston, I would like to request a few moments of silence.” Then, he read from the Bible. (Applause.)
At every stage, our nation’s long march for civil rights was inspired, sustained, and uplifted by faith, prayer, and devotion of religious believers.
To protect faith communities, I have taken historic action to defend religious liberty, including the constitutional right to pray in public schools. (Applause.)
We can also talk about the Johnson Amendment. We can talk about Mexico City Policy. We’ve done a lot. But I also recently took executive action to stop taxpayer dollars from going to colleges and universities that spread the poison of anti-Semitism and bad things about Christianity. (Applause.)
We are upholding the sanctity of life — sanctity of life. (Applause.) And we are doing that like nobody has ever done it before from this position. You better get out and vote on November 3rd — (laughter) — because you have a lot of people out there that aren’t liking what we’re doing.
And we’re pursuing medical breakthroughs to save premature babies because every child is a sacred gift from God. (Applause.)
Together, we are building the world’s most prosperous and inclusive society. We are lifting up citizens of every race, color, religion, and creed. We are bringing hope to forgotten communities. And more Americans are working today — 160 million. A little bit short. Just a little bit. One hundred and sixty million. We’ve never been even close — than ever before. Think of it: More Americans are working today — almost 160 million — than ever before. Our unemployment numbers are the best in the history of our country. (Applause.)
A more specific number and numbers that you hear me say, if you listen: African American, Asian American, Hispanic American — the best unemployment numbers in the history of our country. Women — best in 71 years. Sorry. We’ll have you there soon. Soon, it will be “historic.” I have to apologize to the women; it’s only 71 years.
But the best unemployment numbers, we have — we’re doing things that nobody thought possible. We’re setting records that nobody thought achievable.
And to give former prisoners a second chance at life, which so many people in this room have worked on for so long — (applause) — we passed criminal justice reform into law, and I signed it nine months ago.
And it’s proving more and more that America is indeed a nation that believes in redemption. What’s happened with prisoners is a miracle. Prisoners would come out and nobody would give them a job. And oftentimes, most of the time — almost all of the time — they’d go back into prison. They’d get caught doing something bad. They had no money. They had no hope. They had no job. Now they’re coming out into a booming economy. And employers are hiring them, and to a certain extent, maybe because they’re having a hard time getting people.
First time in our country’s history, actually, we’re running out of people. We have plants moving in by the thousands. We have car companies coming from Japan and from Germany, from lots of other places, and we need people. And employers are hiring prisoners, and they would have never done it, except for what we’ve done with criminal justice reform. But even before that, because the economy has become so powerful.
And these prisoners have done an incredible job. The employers are saying, “Why didn’t I do this 20 years ago?”
So it’s an incredible thing what’s happening to people that are given a second chance, and sometimes a third chance, in all fairness. And it’s something that everybody in this room should be very proud about, because you’ve always felt that way long before it was fashionable. So I want to thank you for that. (Applause.)
As we revive our economy, we are also renewing our national spirit. Today we proudly proclaim that faith is alive and well and thriving in America. And we’re going to keep it that way. Nobody will have it changed. (Applause.) It won’t happen. As long as I’m here, it will never, ever happen. (Applause.)
Something which wasn’t done nearly enough — I could almost say wasn’t done at all — we are standing up for persecuted Christians and religious minorities all around the world — (applause) — like nobody has ever done.
Last year, at the United Nations, I was honored to be the first President to host a meeting of religious freedom. It was based all on religious freedom. That was the first meeting of its kind ever held at the United Nations. There I called upon all nations to combat the terrible injustice of religious persecution. And people listened.
And countries that we give billions of dollars to, they listened because they had to listen. (Laughter.) It’s amazing how that works, isn’t it? (Laughter.) That nobody ever played that game before. (Laughter.)
Weeks ago, a 21-year-old woman, who goes by the name of Mary, was seized and imprisoned in Iran because she converted to Christianity and shared the Gospel with others.
In Venezuela, the dictator Maduro has arrested church leaders. At the State of the Union, I was honored to host the true and legitimate President of Venezuela, Juan Guaidó. (Applause.) Good man. I told him that all Americans stand with the Venezuelan people in their righteous struggle for freedom.
Yesterday, our administration launched the International Religious Freedom Alliance, the first-ever alliance devoted to promoting religious liberty. It was something. Really something. (Applause.)
More than 25 countries have already joined our campaign. I want to thank Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, along with Ambassador Sam Brownback, who are both here this morning, for leading this historic initiative. Thank you very much. Thank you, Mike. (Applause.) Thank you.
All of us here today reaffirm these timeless truths: Faith keeps us free. Prayer makes us strong. And God alone is the author of life and the giver of grace. (Applause.)
With us this morning is a pastor who embodies the miracle of faith and the power of prayer: Reverend Gerald Toussaint from Louisiana. Reverend Toussaint is an Army veteran, a truck driver, and a pastor. He leads the same church that his father led, Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, which has been a pillar of the community for more than 140 years.
Last year, Mount Pleasant was one of three African American churches in Louisiana that was destroyed in a fire set by a wicked, hate-filled arsonist.
Yet, in the wake of such shocking evil, America witnessed the unshakable unity, devotion, and spirit of Reverend Toussaint and his entire highly spirited, beautiful congregation. Families quickly came together in prayer. Soon, people from all across Louisiana came to help any way they could. Americans in all 50 states and 20 different countries heard about it and they donated more than $2 million to help rebuild Mount Pleasant — (applause) — and the other two churches that were (inaudible).
On Easter Sunday, just days after he lost his church, Reverend Toussaint preached about what it all meant. What does it mean? “The Easter season,” he said, “is a fitting metaphor for recent events. It was dark the day that Jesus was crucified. It was dark [at] night when they burned our church. What has happened since is like a resurrection.” Old things are gone, but it’s going to be a brand-new start, and it’s going to be better than ever, Reverend. (Applause.) Better than ever. Fantastic.
And today, just 10 months later, the ground is cleared. Careful plans have been made, and they’re beautiful plans. And construction is about to begin on the new and very, very magnificent Mount Pleasant Church. Congratulations. (Applause.)
You know, the Reverend says that we’re rebuilding because that’s what Jesus does. He rebuilds, he lives, and he breathes. It’s what he does. He wants it to be rebuilt. It was torn apart, but it’s being rebuilt again, and I’ll bet you it will indeed be bigger, better, and nicer than before. What do you think, Reverend? Yes? And it’s going to have your mark on it. It did have and now it will have even great. And your father is looking down on you right now and he’s very, very proud of the job that you’ve done. Thank you very much. (Applause.) Very much inspire us, Reverend. Thank you.
Well, I want to just thank everybody. This has been very special. Tell your congregation that — and all of your people — that we have 350 million people in our country. They’re proud Americans. And they respect what we’re doing, even those that you don’t think so much like us, respect us, want to be with us. They’re respecting our fight, and we are in a fight.
Religion in this country and religion all over the world — certain religions in particular — are under siege. We won’t let that happen. We are going to protect our religions. We are going to protect Christianity. We are going to protect our great ministers and pastors and rabbis and all of the people that we so cherish and that we so respect.
America is eternally in the debt of our nation’s African American churches all throughout this country. That’s why it’s so fitting and so — it’s one of the reasons we chose this particular church in Louisiana. For generations, they bravely fought for justice and lifted up the conscience of our nation. And we’re grateful beyond any measure.
But I can say that going beyond that, we’re grateful to the people in this room for the love they show to religion. Not one religion, but many religions. They are brave. They are brilliant. They are fighters. They like people. And sometimes they hate people. I’m sorry. I apologize. I’m trying to learn. (Laughter.) It’s not easy. It’s not easy. (Applause.)
When they impeach you for nothing, then you’re supposed to like them? It’s not easy, folks. (Laughter.) I do my best.
But I’ll tell you what we are doing: We’re restoring hope and spreading faith. We’re helping citizens of every background take part in the great rebuilding of our nation. We’re declaring that America will always shine as a land of liberty and light unto all nations of the world. We want every nation to look up to us like they are right now. We were not a respected nation just a few years ago. We had lost our way. Our country is respected again by everybody. (Applause.)
This morning, let us ask Father in Heaven to guide our steps, protect our children, and bless our families. And with all of our heart, let us forever embrace the eternal truth that every child is made equal by the hand of Almighty God.
Thank you. God Bless you. And God bless America. Thank you all very much. Thank you. Thank you. (Applause.)
9:37 A.M. EST