THE VICE PRESIDENT: It is a joy to be with all of you today to touch on a topic of enormous importance not only in the life of people of faith across the world, but enormous importance to this administration. And would you join me in congratulating Reverend Franklin Graham for bringing together this first ever World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians. (Applause.)
Reverend Graham, Senator Lankford, Senator Blunt, Congressman Smith, Congressman Hultgren, leaders of faith in public life across this country and across the world, to my brothers and sisters in Christ. (Applause.) I often say when people have asked me over the years what my philosophy is, I tell them I'm a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican, in that order. (Applause.)
It is a distinct honor and, frankly, a humbling privilege to join you today at this first-ever Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians. Let me first and foremost bring greetings from my friend, a champion of the freedom of religion and the freedoms enshrined in our Bill of Rights, the 45th President of the United States of America, President Donald Trump. (Applause.)
And I'm here on behalf of the President as a tangible sign of his commitment to defending Christians and, frankly, all who suffer for their beliefs across the wider world. I stand here today as a testament to President Trump's tangible commitment to reaffirm America's role as a beacon of hope and light and liberty to inspire the world. (Applause.) You are here from across this land and from distant others because America was and is and ever will be that shining city on a hill where men and women of faith throughout our history have been able to walk and openly worship their faith in God to the glory of God, and it will ever be true in these United States of America. (Applause.)
And on behalf of our President, let me personally thank our host today. This is a man who I, having just recognized once -- someone who I'm blessed to call my friend, and the President is blessed to call a friend in Reverend Graham. And I want to thank all of you Christian leaders from so many faith traditions who have traveled to join us here today. To Cardinal Wuerl, Archbishop Pierre, Archbishop Tikhon, Metropolitan Hilarion, Bishop Anis, Patriarch Aphrem, Dr. Zacharias, Dr. Michael Youssef, Dr. Youssef, and all the faith leaders are here today.
Each one of you bear witness to the power of truth to transform lives. And the people that you shepherd impact every corner of the world. And it's an honor to be with all of you today.
And of course, let me also say how deeply humbling it is for me to stand today before the courageous men and women who are with us, who have stood without apology for their faith in Christ and suffered persecution across the wider world. Reverend Sami Dagher, Father Douglas Bazi, Reverend Eliseo Villar, Rashin Soodmand, Cheol Kang, Ishak Shehata, Ishmail, and so many others who are here with us today.
Your faith inspires me. It humbles me. And it inspires all who are looking on today. Would you all join me in thanking the courageous believers who have stood for their faith under withering persecution who are with us here today? We are honored by their presence. (Applause.) On behalf of the President of the United States, I say from my heart to that number, we are with you. We stand with you. And we are here at this world's summit because of you.
The Bible tells us: "All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." And those of you gathered here today are emblematic of millions across the world. You've persevered through the crucible of persecution. You refused to be conformed to this world. You have chosen instead to be counted with those outside the city gate for your faith. And by your life, you bear witness to the truth that brings us together here at this summit.
The reality is, across the wider world, the Christian faith is under siege. Throughout the world, no people of faith today face greater hostility or hatred than the followers of Christ. In more than 100 countries spread to every corner of the globe –- from Iran to Eritrea, Nigeria to North Korea –- over 215 million Christians confront intimidation, imprisonment, forced conversion, abuse, assault, or worse, for holding to the truths of the Gospel. And nowhere is this onslaught against our faith more evident than in the very ancient land where Christianity was born.
Two millennia ago, the Disciples of Christ, the forefathers of our faith, fanned out from Israel in every direction to bring the good news that we proclaim across the globe to this day. And in the valleys of Syria, Palestine, the plains of Nineveh and the Nile, on the banks of the Tigris and the Euphrates, they planted seeds of belief. They watered them with their sacrifice and their courage. They blossomed into fruit, and have borne fruit for the Gospel ever since.
The Christian communities where the message of our Lord was first uttered and embraced today, though, are often the targets of unspeakable atrocity. In Egypt, just recently, we saw bombs explode in churches in the very midst of the celebration of Palm Sunday. A day of hope was transformed into tragedy. I was just this weekend with a pastor who -- from Egypt who spoke of the images that day, of seeing the palms the people carried into church on the ground, marked with the blood of the injured.
In Iraq, at the hands of extremists, we've actually seen monasteries demolished, priests and monks beheaded, and the two-millennia-old Christian tradition in Mosul virtually extinguished overnight. In Syria, we see ancient communities burned to the ground. We see believers tortured for confessing Christ, and women and children sold into the most terrible form of human slavery.
Know today with assurance that President Trump sees these crimes for what they are: vile acts of persecution animated by hatred -- hatred for the Gospel of Christ. And so too does the President know those who perpetrate these crimes. They are them the embodiment of evil in our time. He calls them by name -- radical Islamic terrorists. (Applause.)
From al Qaeda to al Shabaab, from Boko Haram to the Taliban, these extremist groups seek to stamp out all religions that are not their own, or even a version of their own that they approve. And believers from every background have suffered grievously at their hands. And this summit is about calling the attention to the world to those tragic circumstances.
The practitioners of terror harbor a special hatred for the followers of Christ, and none more so than the barbarians known as ISIS. That brutal regime shows a savagery, frankly, unseen in the Middle East since the Middle Ages. And I believe ISIS is guilty of nothing short of genocide against people of the Christian faith, and it is time the world called it by name. (Applause.)
Now, Christianity faces unprecedented threats in the land where it was given life, its creed in an exodus unrivaled since the days of Moses in some communities. In Syria, the Christian population has plummeted from one-and-a-quarter million to only 500,000 in just the past six years. In Iraq, followers of Christ have fallen by 80 percent in the past decade and a half due to the violence of extremism and acts against Christian communities.
But you know, it wasn't always like this. I saw it firsthand in 2004, shortly after the end of initial combat operations in Operation: Iraqi Freedom. I traveled to al-Basrah in Iraq. It was my first time overseas and in that part of the world. And I'll never forget, we met with local leaders -- political leaders and religious leaders -- our small delegation of congressmen.
And there I witnessed something I'll never forget. I saw the local imam standing in his traditional apparel, and then as the local bishop arrived I saw the two of them embrace warmly, and began to speak with one another in animated ways. And the translator who was with me said that they were speaking about their families. The imam was expressing the appreciation that the bishop had expressed for condolences for the loss in their community. And there was warm affection between them.
I turned to the State Department official who was traveling with us and said -- not knowing, I said, how long has there been a Christian church in al-Basrah? And he smiled and said, about 1,500 years. (Laughter.) It's a community of common purpose and affection. And it can be that way again.
Our brother and sisters in faith, I can assure you are being carried by the prayers of the faithful across this nation and across the world. You have the prayers of our President and all the American people. And the Old Book says, not be anxious about anything but in every form of prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your request to God and the peace of God that passes all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
So know those of you that stare persecution in the face every day in distant lands, you have the prayers of the American people, prayers of my family, and you have the prayers of the President of the United States.
The suffering of Christians in the Middle East has stirred America to act, and it brings me here today. President Trump rightly said not long ago that -- of the Christian church, "nobody has been treated worse in the Middle East." He's made it clear that America will stand by followers of Christ in this hour of need. Our administration is fully committed in bringing relief and comfort to believers not only across the Middle East but across the world. This President knows the terrorists will not stop until we stop them. And under President Donald Trump, we will stop them. (Applause.)
In President Trump, we not only have a leader who calls our enemy by name, we have a President who is confronting those who commit terror no matter the home or hut or cave in which they hide. In President Trump, I can promise you the armed forces of the United States of America, working with our allies in the region in Iraq and Afghanistan -- we will not rest, we will not relent until we hunt down and destroy ISIS at its source. (Applause.)
Because of the action of President Donald Trump, ISIS is already on the run. Progress in Mosul is tangible. But the fight goes on. And I would say to each of you, persevere in prayer for those who wear the uniform and who are in this fight. Carry them in your prayers.
I was out at Walter Reed Hospital not long ago with one of our servicemembers who had been injured been Mosul. And like all of our courageous men and women, the only thing he wanted to do was get better and get back and fight. So carry them in your prayers, the effective and fervent prayer of a righteous people avail of -- much. We ask you to avail yourselves to the opportunity to remember our armed forces as they fight for our freedom across the world.
And rest assured, in the Middle East and North Africa, anywhere terror strikes, America stands with those who are targeted and tormented for their belief, whether they're Christian, Yazidi, Druzes, Shia, Sunni, or any other creed. The President's commitment to protecting people of faith also will not end with the elimination of ISIS or the eradication of terror. Under President Donald Trump, America will continue to condemn persecution of any kind, of any faith, any place, any time. We will stand against it with our ideals and with all our might.
The freedom to worship God according to the dictates of our conscience is at the very heart of who we are as Americans. In a very real sense, America was founded by people who had the courage to cross the Atlantic, motivated in so many cases to come here so that they might have that freedom of religion.
Truth is, today, for all the prosperity of the freedom of faith in America and other free societies, today, according to the Pew Center, nearly 80 percent of the human family lives in places where restrictions on religion are either "high" or "very high." It's a five-percent increase in a single year.
Too many nations let the mob trample on the rights of the minority. Still more prefer the coercion of the state to conviction of the soul. And the limitations placed on people of belief have become too numerous to count. They range from violence to vandalism -- forced conversion to crush free speech, blasphemy laws to building codes, to detainment, to death.
Across the wider world, Christians face this and more. But to be clear, adherents of other religions across the world have not been spared. And we will speak for them and pray for them as well. For as history attests, persecution of one faith is ultimately the persecution of all faiths. (Applause.)
President Trump will continue to stand without apology to protect this fundamental freedom, not just for our people but stand for it in the world. Since the founding of our nation, America has stood for the proposition that the right to believe and the right to act on one's beliefs is the right of all peoples at all times. Protecting and promoting religious freedom is a foreign policy priority of the Trump administration. (Applause.)
Under President Donald Trump, America will continue to stand for religious freedom of all people, of all faiths, across the world. And I believe that all God's children, no matter their country or their creed, can know with confidence that God will continue to guide this nation, to play our unique role on behalf of freedom in the world. So have confidence.
When I first ran for office back in 1999 -- okay, when I first ran successfully for office -- (laughter) -- my wife presented me with a framed verse. It hung over our mantle for 12 years when I served in the Congress of the United States. And it hung over the mantle of the Governor's Residence in Indiana. Now it hangs over the mantle in the home of the Vice President of the United States of America.
It simply reads some ancient words people of faith have clung to throughout the millennia. And as we reflect on the great challenges at this world summit today that believers Christ face across the globe, I think we do well to claim this promise again. It simply reads, "For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you, and not to harm you, plans to give you hope, and a future."
True words when they were first spoken by the prophet, every bit as true today. And so I want to encourage all of you today, fellow believers in Christ, cling to one another in these challenging times. Know that America stands with you and will labor alongside. But be confident because in the midst of it all, he knows the plans he has for us.
And even as history records, even in times of persecution, this church has prospered, it's grown, it's had hope and a future. And with your continued courage and faith, and with the strong and unwavering support of America and its courageous President, Donald Trump, I know that future is bright indeed, now and in eternity.
Thank you very much. May God bless your ministries in this land and around the world. God bless you all and these United States of America. (Applause.)