(CNSNews.com) – President Trump on Monday night thanked prominent evangelical leaders for their “incredible” support, and in turn listed measures his administration has advanced on issues of importance to them – from restricting federal funding for abortions to confronting religious persecution around the world.
Welcoming leaders “who believe in the dignity of life, the glory of God and the power of prayer,” the president joined First Lady Melania Trump in hosting a dinner at the White House to celebrate “America’s heritage of faith, family and freedom.”
“As you know, in recent years the government tried to undermine religious freedom, but the attacks on communities of faith are over,” he told the guests. “We’ve ended it – we’ve ended it. Unlike some before us we are protecting religious liberty.”
Trump drew enthusiastic applause as he declared that faith and family, not government and bureaucracy, are the center of American life.
He outlined a series of steps his administration has taken, including reinstating the Reagan-era Mexico City policy, which requires organizations receiving federal family planning funding to certify that they are not carrying out or promoting abortion; and barring Title X family planning funds from programs and facilities that support, perform or refer patients for abortions.
“We have stopped the Johnson Amendment from interfering with your First Amendment rights,” Trump said, referring to a 1954 tax code provision preventing non-profits including churches from endorsing political candidates without losing their tax-exempt status.
(Trump signed an executive order in May 2017 instructing the Treasury Department not to enforce the provision against religious organizations. Initiatives are underway in Congress to repeal it.)
The president was cheered as he recalled his decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the U.S. Embassy there, and again while speaking of efforts to bring Pastor Andrew Brunson home from Turkey, where he is on trial on espionage and terror-related charges which the administration views as bogus.
“Together we will uplift our nation in prayer, defend the sanctity of life and forever proudly remain one nation under God,” he said.
Concluding his remarks, he thanked the leaders again.
“The support you’ve given me has been incredible,” he said, then added, “but I really don’t feel guilty because I have given you a lot back, just about everything I promised.”
Trump used the opportunity to make his first public comments on the death Saturday of Sen. John McCain of Arizona, a veteran Republican and war hero who frequently had disagreements with the president’s policies.
“Our hearts and prayers are going to the family of Senator John McCain,” he said. “There’ll be a lot of activity over the next number of days. We very much appreciate everything that Senator McCain has done for our country, so thank you very much.”
According to the Pew Research Center, white evangelical Protestants supported Trump over Hillary Clinton by a 77 to 16 percent margin in 2016.
Trump also attracted the support of 52 percent of white mainline Protestants (44 percent for Clinton) and 64 percent of white, non-Hispanic Catholics (31 percent for Clinton).
On the other hand, 96 percent of black Protestants and 78 percent of Hispanic Catholics reported voting for Clinton, compared to three percent and 19 percent for Trump, respectively.
Guests at Monday night’s dinner included Faith & Freedom Coalition chairman Ralph Reed, Family Research Council president Tony Perkins, Civil Rights for the Unborn director Alveda King, Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr., Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, and evangelical pastors including Franklin Graham, Robert Jeffress, Paula White and Darrell Scott.
Also taking part were members of the administration including Vice President Mike Pence, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, and ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, Sam Brownback.