THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much, everybody. Thank you. Please. Thank you very much. What a day. What a beautiful day. And our country is doing very well. You’ll see some very good announcements very shortly.
It’s wonderful to be here on this glorious spring morning as we celebrate the National Day of Prayer at the White House in the Rose Garden. (Applause.)
I want to thank Vice President Mike Pence and Karen for joining us. Very special people. Thank you very much. (Applause.) We are truly blessed to have a Vice President and a Second Lady who believe in the power of prayer and the glory of God. And they do believe. I’m with them a lot; they believe. (Applause.) It’s good. Thank you, Mike.
Thanks, also, to the members of the Cabinet who have joined us today, along with so many amazing faith leaders from across the country, including my good friend Paula White, who’s done such an incredible job. Paula. Paula. Stand, Paula. Thank you, Paula. (Applause.) And the President of the National Day of Prayer, Dr. Ronnie Floyd. Thank you. Thank you, Doctor. Thank you. Thanks, Ronnie. (Applause.)
I especially want to recognize Cissie Graham. And I will now add that word “Lynch” because I always call her Cissie Graham, but it’s really Cissie Graham Lynch. You like it that way better, right? Don’t you think we — I like it that way, too. I like it that way because you’re married to a great gentleman. A fantastic man. So, Cissie, thank you very much for being here. We appreciate it very much. (Applause.)
Priest Narayanachar, Sister Bingham, Chaplain Agbere, Rabbi Shemtov, Cardinal Wuerl, and the Hope Christian Church Choir. I heard you, by the way, right inside the Oval Office. That was beautiful. That was great music. Thank you. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
As we gather this morning, our thoughts also turn to the memory of a man who awakened the light of God in the hearts of millions of America’s pastors. And that’s the great, legendary, wonderful Billy Graham. Great, great man. Great. (Applause.) So, Cissie, I want to thank you for carrying on your grandfather’s incredible, towering legacy.
Today, we remember the words of Reverend Graham, “Prayer is the key that opens [to] us the treasures of God’s mercies and blessings.” Always beautiful. And when he said it, it meant so much. When I say it, it means something. But I liked when he said it better. (Laughter.) Right? I think he did that a little better than I do.
Reverend Graham’s words remind us that prayer has always been at the center of American life, because America is a nation of believers. Right? That’s very true. (Applause.)
The prayers of religious believers helped gain our independence, and the prayers of religious leaders like the Reverend Martin Luther King — great man — helped win the long struggle for civil rights. Faith has shaped our families, and it’s shaped our communities. It’s inspired our commitment to charity and our defense of liberty. And faith has forged the identity and the destiny of this great nation that we all love. (Applause.)
Americans of faith have built the hospitals that care for our sick, the homes that tend to our elderly, and the charities that house the orphaned, and they minister — and they really do, they minister to the poor, and so beautifully and with such love.
We are proud of our religious heritage. And as President, I will always protect religious liberty. We’ve been doing it. We’ve been doing it. (Applause.) Last year on this day, I took executive action to prevent the Johnson Amendment — a disaster — from interfering with our First Amendment rights. I was so proud of that. I’ve been saying from the beginning. You know that. (Applause.) I was saying for a long time we’re going to do that.
Across the government, we have taken action to defend the religious conscience of doctors, nurses, teachers, students, and groups like the Little Sisters of the Poor. (Applause.)
In January of this year, I was proud to be the first President to stand here in the Rose Garden to address the March for Life. A very special day. (Applause.)
And my administration has spoken out against religious persecution around the world, including the persecution of many, many Christians. What’s going on is horrible. And we’re taking action. We are taking action. (Applause.)
We condemn all crimes against people of faith, and today we are launching another historic action to promote religious freedom. I will soon be signing an executive order to create a faith initiative at the White House. (Applause.) Thank you very much.
The faith initiative will help design new policies that recognize the vital role of faith in our families, our communities, and our great country. This office will also help ensure that faith-based organizations have equal access to government funding and the equal right to exercise their deeply held beliefs.
We take this step because we know that, in solving the many, many problems and our great challenges, faith is more powerful than government, and nothing is more powerful than God. (Applause.)
With us today is a living reminder of this truth. His name is Jon Ponder, from Las Vegas, Nevada. Where’s Jon? Come on up here, Jon. Get up here, Jon. (Applause.)
Jon grew up without his father. As he tells it, “My mother was strong, but she wasn’t able to keep us out of the gangs and off the streets.” Right? Jon was in and out of jail for years until, at age 38, he was arrested for bank robbery. You don’t look like a bank robber, Jon. (Laughter.) He’s come a long way.
Jon soon ended up in federal prison, relegated to solitary confinement. That’s where God found him. Jon began to read the Bible and listen to Christian radio. Right? (Applause.) Incredible.
One morning, at 2 a.m., he woke up to the voice of the great Billy Graham. Reverend Graham’s words came through the airwaves, “Jesus wants to be Lord of your life.” That night, Jon dedicated his life to Christ. (Applause.)
He spent the rest of his time in prison praying, studying the Bible, and bringing the Lord to his fellow inmates. The day after Jon’s release, a visitor knocked on his door. It was the man who put him in jail, FBI Special Agent Richard Beasley — who is here. Richard. Come on up, Richard. (Applause.)
“I want you to know that I’ve been praying for you very strongly,” he said, that, “God called me to the FBI in part because of you, Jon.” The two are now lifelong friends.
Jon, do you like him?
PONDER: I love him.
THE PRESIDENT: You love him? That’s nice. (Applause.) That’s beautiful.
Jon runs a ministry that has helped more than 2,000 former inmates rejoin society, and he’s the talk of the country. The job Jon does is incredible.
Jon and Richard, you are a living testament to the power of prayer. (Applause.) Your story reminds us that prayer changes hearts and transforms lives. It uplifts the soul, inspires action, and unites us all as one nation, under God. So important.
And we say it here. You know, a lot of people — (applause) — they don’t say it. But you know what? They’re starting to say it more. Just like we’re starting to say, “Merry Christmas” when that day comes around. (Applause.) You notice the big difference between now and two or three years ago? It was — Paula, it was going in the other direction rapidly. Right? Now it’s straight up.
Our country was founded on prayer. Our communities are sustained by prayer. And our nation will be renewed by hard work, a lot of intelligence, and prayer. (Applause.)
Today we gather to remember this truth: We thank God for the faith of our people. We praise God for the blessings of freedom. And we ask God to forever bless this magnificent land that we all love so much.
America, thank you. God bless you. And God bless the United States. Thank you, everybody. (Applause.) Thank you very much. Thank you, Jon.
(The executive order is signed.) (Applause.)
Thank you very much, everybody. It’s a great day. Thank you.