President Donald Trump said that his administration was making religious freedom a priority, including helping to have people once again say “God” and “Merry Christmas.”
At a National Day of Prayer ceremony held Thursday morning at the White House Rose Garden, President Trump touted his efforts to advance religious liberty.
Noting that “we proudly come together as ‘One Nation, Under God,’” Trump went on to talk about a conversation he and Vice President Mike Pence had about the supposed increase in open faith expression since his campaign began.
“People are so proud to be using that beautiful word, ‘God,’ and they’re using the word ‘God’ again,” stated Trump.
“And they’re not hiding from it, and they’re not being told to take it down. And they’re not saying we can’t honor God.”
Trump then went on to argue that his campaign and later his administration helped to encourage greater usage of the phrase “Merry Christmas” instead of the more secular “Happy Holidays.”
“When I first started campaigning, people were not allowed, or in some cases foolishly ashamed to be using in stores, ‘Merry Christmas,’ ‘Happy Christmas.’ They’d say ‘Happy Holidays,’” Trump stated.
“That was four years ago. Take a look at your stores nowadays. It’s all ‘Merry Christmas’ again, ‘Merry Christmas’ again. They’re proud of it. I always said you’re going to be saying ‘Merry Christmas’ again and that’s what’s happened.”
Trump also claimed that he put an end to the Johnson Amendment, a measure which prohibits churches and other nonprofits from engaging in political speech and activities.
“They took away your voice politically,” declared Trump. “They would lose their tax-exempt status. That’s not happening anymore. We got rid of the Johnson Amendment. That’s a big thing.”
However, critics including Americans United for Separation of Church & State were quick to point out that the Johnson Amendment has not been officially repealed.
The Rose Garden event also featured brief remarks from Vice President Pence, who called the observance a “great tradition.”
“Since the founding of this nation, the American people have believed in prayer. It is the thread that runs through every era of American history,” Pence said.
“I can assure you, at a time when religious belief is often marginalized and even ridiculed, in this White House, under this president, we believe in prayer.”
During his speech, Trump invited various people to the stage to speak on certain issues. One of these speakers was Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, who was wounded during the shooting at the Chabad of Poway in California.
“I should’ve been dead by now based on the rule of statistics. I was in the line of fire, bullets flying all the way, my fingers got blown off, but I did not stop,” stated Rabbi Goldstein.
“My life has changed forever, but it changed so I can make change, and that I can help others learn how to be strong, how to be mighty and tall. ”
Also featured was contemporary Christian music from the worship team of the Texas-based Prestonwood Baptist Church and prayers from clergy representing different religions.
The White House event was part of the annual National Day of Prayer observance, which was first created in 1952 by a joint resolution of Congress.
This year’s theme was “Love One Another,” which derives from John 13:34, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”
Pastor Ronnie Floyd, former Southern Baptist Convention head and current president of the National Day of Prayer, said in a statement last year that he believed “love can change America.”
“We need a baptism of love by the Holy Spirit that will immerse the entire Church of Jesus Christ in America and a baptism of love that will immerse all of America today,” stated Floyd.
“From the church house to the state house and all the way to the White House, we need to learn to love one another.”