President Trump spotlights religious liberty at prayer breakfast

Fox News screen captureThe Trump administration "will do everything in its power to defend and protect religious liberty," President Donald Trump said earlier this week at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington.

Among steps he proposed to safeguard religious liberty was a promise to "get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment," a 1954 law that bars churches and other tax-exempt organizations from endorsing political candidates. The promise drew attention within hours from major media outlets and echoed statements Trump made during the 2016 presidential campaign.

America should repeal the Johnson Amendment and "allow our representatives of faith to speak freely without fear of retribution," Trump said at the prayer breakfast, which was held Feb. 2.

Among Southern Baptists in attendance were former Southern Baptist Convention Presidents Jack Graham and Ronnie Floyd; Wendell Estep, pastor of First Baptist Church in Columbia, S.C.; Student Leadership University President Jay Strack; former Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission President Richard Land; and Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in the Los Angeles area.

The breakfast included a keynote address by U.S. Senate chaplain Barry Black, music by Christian recording artist Bart Millard of Mercy Me and prayer led by World Series MVP Ben Zobrist. Members of Congress from both parties also offered remarks and prayers.

Trump said his high regard for religious liberty motivates his opposition to the Johnson Amendment as well as his immigration policy and his fight against radical Islamic terrorism.

"We will be a country where all citizens can practice their beliefs without fear of hostility or fear of violence," Trump said. "America will flourish as long as our liberty, and in particular our religious liberty, is allowed to flourish."

Immigration policy, Trump said, must secure America's borders against "those who would seek to enter our country for the purpose of spreading violence or oppressing other people based upon their faith or their lifestyle."

Trump called terrorism "a fundamental threat to religious freedom."

"It must be stopped and it will be stopped," Trump said, noting persecution around the world of "peace-loving Muslims," Jews and Christians.

The president also spoke briefly of his personal faith and said, "The quality of our lives is not defined by our material success, but by our spiritual success."

Five words "that never fail to touch my heart," Trump said, are "I am praying for you." He expressed appreciation to the many Americans who assure him of their prayers.

Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, and a member of Trump's Evangelical Executive Advisory Board, told Baptist Press he appreciated the president's comments on religious liberty and the "acclaim for Jesus" expressed at various junctures in the program.

"It was one of the best National Prayer Breakfasts I've attended" out of 10-12, Graham said, reflecting on the time of prayer and music. "My wife Deb and I came away feeling we had been to church and that we truly had prayed."

Floyd, another member of Trump's Evangelical Advisory Board and pastor of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas, told BP "the 2017 National Prayer Breakfast was very strong."

"The message by the chaplain of the United States Senate, Chaplain Black, was outstanding," Floyd said in an email. "President Donald Trump's words were personal, relating to his deepest appreciation for people praying for him, and his remarks affirmed his great vision for religious freedom. Mercy Me also led in meaningful moments of worship. Overall, from all the years my wife Jeana and I have attended, we believe this year was the strongest of all."

Estep told BP in written comments, "It seemed that President Trump was well received. The keynote speaker brought the audience to its feet with his powerful message of Jesus Christ and His redemption of man. Those attendees I spoke with were very positive concerning the messages delivered."

David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service.

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