[Transcript] State Dining Room – 6:54 P.M. EDT – THE PRESIDENT: What a nice group. Thank you very much. Please.
Melania and I are thrilled to welcome you. And these are very special friends of mine, Evangelical pastors and leaders from all across the nation. We welcome you to the White House. Its a special place. Its a place we love. Were having a lot of fun, were having a lot of success.
Today we reached the highest level in the history of the stock market. We broke 26,000 — (applause) — so I assume you have some stock. And I view that differently. Were respected all over the world again, and it means jobs. So its a lot of good things happening.
I also want to thank a family of faith that is truly a blessing to our nation. I want to thank Vice President Mike Pence and Karen Pence. Where are you, Mike? (Applause.) Thank you. Thank you, Mike.
And our incredible First Lady for hosting this evening. Thank you. Thank you. (Applause.)
America is a nation of believers. And tonight were joined by faith leaders from across the country who believe in the dignity of life, the glory of God, and the power of prayer. Everybody agree with that?
AUDIENCE: Yes! (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: If you didn’t, wed have a big story, wouldn’t we? (Laughter.)
I want to say a special thank you to Paula White, Alveda King, Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell, Darrell Scott, Robert Jeffress, Ralph Reed, Tony Perkins, Lester Warner, and everyone here tonight. So many great, great leaders. Incredible leaders. I know you, I watch you, I see you. Yours are the words we want to hear.
I also understand that tonight is the 58th wedding anniversary. So we have a very big wedding — where is he? Dr. James and Shirley Dobson. Where are they? (Applause.) Where are they? Thats great. Congratulations. That’s something.
MRS. DOBSON: Thank you for throwing a party of us tonight. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: That’s right. This is a party for you. We can look at it that way, actually. (Laughter.) Thank you. Congratulations.
Were also joined by Secretary Alex Azar, Secretary Ben Carson – hello, Ben – (applause) — and Ambassador Sam Brownback. (Applause.)
Before going any further, I want to extend our prayers and condolences to the victims of the tragic shooting in Jacksonville, Florida. That was a terrible thing indeed. And how it happens, nobody really knows. But they’ve done an incredible job down in Jacksonville, as they always do in Florida and throughout the country. But condolences.
Also, our hearts and prayers are going to the family of Senator John McCain. There’s going to be a lot of activity over the next number of days. And we very much appreciate everything that Senator McCain has done for our country. So thank you very much. (Applause.)
Were here this evening to celebrate Americas 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. We’ve ended it. We’ve ended it. (Applause.) Unlike some before us, we are protecting your religious liberty.
In the last 18 months alone, we have stopped the Johnson Amendment from interfering with your First Amendment rights. (Applause.) A big deal. Its a big deal.
We’ve taken action to defend the religious conscience of doctors, nurses, teachers, students, preachers, faith groups, and religious employers.
We sent the entire executive branch guidance on protecting religious liberty. Big deal. Brought the Faith and Opportunity Initiative to the White House.
Reinstated the Mexico City Policy we first put into place. And if you know, if you study it – and most of you know about this – first under President Ronald Reagan, not since then – the Mexico City Policy. (Applause.)
We proposed regulations to prevent Title 10 taxpayer funding from subsidizing abortion. I was the first President to stand in the Rose Garden to address the March for Life. First one. (Applause.)
My administration has strongly spoken out against religious persecution around the world, including the persecution of Christians. All over the world, whats going on. (Applause.) And for that, we’ve become not only a strong voice but a very, very powerful force. Were stopping a lot of bad things from happening.
We brought home hostages from North Korea, including an American pastor. And were fighting to release Pastor Brunson from Turkey. (Applause.) And we’ve made (inaudible).
We’ve recognized the capital of Israel and opened the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem. (Applause.)
Were restoring opportunity for all Americans. African American, Hispanic American, Asian American unemployment have all recently achieved their lowest rates ever recorded in the history of our country. (Applause.) And women’s unemployment recently achieved its lowest rate in 65 years. (Applause.)
Very important to me, youth unemployment has reached its lowest rate in nearly 50 years. And unemployment for Americans without a high school diploma – think of that — has reached its lowest rate ever. (Applause.)
Were advancing prison reform to give former inmates a second chance. And these incredible unemployment numbers are probably the greatest thing that ever happened to people getting out and wanting a second, and sometimes a third, chance. But they’d come out of prison, and they were not hired, and bad things would happen, and they’d go back. Now they’re coming out of prison, they’re getting jobs. Were working with them. And they are very, very thankful.
Ill tell you who else is thankful: the employers. I have a friend who hired numerous people coming out of prison — something he never thought he’d do — and in a way, he was forced to do it, frankly. He was forced to do it by the fact that he couldn’t get people; he needed people. The numbers are so low in that community. He is so happy. Hes hired some people that he said he hopes he never loses them. They’re happy, and he is thrilled. So that’s a great story. A great story. (Applause.)
Every day, were standing for religious believers, because we know that faith and family, not government and bureaucracy, are the center of American life. (Applause.) And we know that freedom is a gift from our Creator.
Here in the State Dining Room, carved into this fireplace, is the famous prayer of John Adams. It says, I pray Heaven to bestow the best of Blessings on this House. And that’s really what it is. This is an incredible house. Means so much. It means so much to our country. It means so much to the world. And it means, really, so much to religion and to Christians. So its an honor to have you.
Together, we will uplift our nation in prayer, defend the sanctity of life, and forever proudly remain one nation under God. (Applause.)
So thank you again to all of my friends and faith leaders for being here tonight. You are really special people. The support you’ve given me has been incredible. But I really don’t feel guilty because I have given you a lot back, just about everything I promised. (Applause.) And as one of our great pastors just said, Actually, you’ve given us much more, sir, than you promised. And I think that’s true, in many respects. (Applause.)
And now I would like to ask a tremendous friend of all of ours, Pastor Paula White, to come up and bless our meal. Paula, please. (Applause.)
PASTOR WHITE: Its an honor to be here. And before we pray the prayer, this group would like to present to you and First Lady a Bible that is signed by over a hundred Christians, Evangelicals that love you, pray for you. And Id just love to read the inscription for you and First Lady. Its very important for – I have to put on my glasses, so — sorry.
It says: First Lady and President, you are in our prayers always. Thank you for your courageous and bold stand for religious liberty, and for your timeless service to all Americans. We appreciate the price that you have paid to walk in the high calling. History will record the greatness that you have brought for generations.
We pray this prayer. And if all of you agree with that, say Amen.
(A prayer is given.)