Trump vows in speech to 'protect God in the public square' if he wins 2024 election

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Former President Donald Trump called on Christians to support his presidential bid, pledging if elected to "protect God in the public square," defend Christian broadcasters and their "pro-God" content from censorship, and appoint a task force to fight anti-Christian bias, including federal prosecutions.

Trump spoke to an enthusiastic crowd of about 1,500 Thursday evening at a presidential forum at the annual conference of the National Religious Broadcasters at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center in Nashville. The nonprofit’s annual convention is in Music City this week.

Many in the crowd wore red and white hats with the phrase “Make America Pray Again,” provided by conference sponsor Pray.com, as wild cheers broke out to welcome the former president.

Former President Donald Trump addresses the 2024 NRB International Christian Media Convention sponsored by the National Religious Broadcasters association at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center in Nashville, Tenn., Thursday night, February 22, 2024.
Former President Donald Trump addresses the 2024 NRB International Christian Media Convention sponsored by the National Religious Broadcasters association at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center in Nashville, Tenn., Thursday night, February 22, 2024.

“I really believe it’s the biggest thing missing from this country, the biggest thing. We have to bring back our religion. We have to bring back Christianity,” Trump said, prompting a big cheer from the crowd.

Despite a tight calendar of court appearances and campaigning, Trump appeared in Nashville with just two days to go before the South Carolina primary. The former president is the frontrunner against former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley in her home state – as he is here in Tennessee. Voters here in the Volunteer State will cast ballots on Super Tuesday on March 5. Early voting is already underway.

NRB President Troy Miller said the organization invited all eligible candidates from both parties to participate in the presidential forum, and Trump was the only candidate who was available to attend. The NRB has not endorsed Trump’s presidential bid.

Lines for the presidential forum already snaked through the Opryland hotel lobby just after 3 p.m. But Trump, who was scheduled to take the stage around 8 p.m. CT, kept the hyped crowd waiting.

The room was far from packed. At about 8:40 p.m., nearly an hour before Trump took the stage, staff urgently began removing hundreds of chairs from the back corner of the room. About 200 empty seats on the far side of the room remained.

Before Trump walked on stage, the crowd stood in recognition of “the January 6th hostages," referring to those who face federal charges for their role in storming the U.S. Capitol. His speech began at 9:42 p.m. and wrapped shortly before 11 p.m.

During his opening comments, Trump blamed the delay on rough weather during his flight.

Melissa Kerley and Erin Gray take a selfie together before the 2024 NRB Presidential Forum begins during the NRB Christian Convention conference at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center in Nashville, Tenn., Thursday night, Feb. 22, 2024.
Melissa Kerley and Erin Gray take a selfie together before the 2024 NRB Presidential Forum begins during the NRB Christian Convention conference at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center in Nashville, Tenn., Thursday night, Feb. 22, 2024.

'We will protect God in our public square'

Trump asked the crowd of Christian broadcasters and media to support his bid for the White House, pledging to defend Christians from domestic persecution, censorship, and infringements on their rights.

He denounced the recent convictions of six anti-abortion protesters arrested in 2021 for blockading the entrance to a Mt. Juliet reproductive health clinic where abortions are performed. The group is facing up to 10.5 years in prison and fines of more than a quarter-million dollars for their actions.

“Let’s call these brave Americans what they really are: persecuted Christians,” Trump said.

Meanwhile, Trump accused the Biden administration of “targeting Christian believers” and pledged, if elected again, to appoint a special task force “to rapidly review the cases of every political prisoner."

“Remember, every communist regime throughout history has tried to stamp out the churches – just like every fascist regime is trying to go up and control them,” he said. “In America, the radical left is trying to do both at the same time.”

Former President Donald Trump addresses the 2024 NRB International Christian Media Convention sponsored by the National Religious Broadcasters association at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center in Nashville, Tenn., Thursday night, February 22, 2024.
Former President Donald Trump addresses the 2024 NRB International Christian Media Convention sponsored by the National Religious Broadcasters association at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center in Nashville, Tenn., Thursday night, February 22, 2024.

Trump pledged to establish a new federal task force on “fighting anti-Christian bias.”

“Its mission will be to investigate all forms of illegal discrimination, harassment and persecution against Christians in America,” Trump said.

“No one will be touching the cross of Christ under the Trump administration,” he added, to a big applause from the crowd.

Trump also claimed without evidence that religious broadcasters are “under siege,” pledging if elected to “protect content that is pro-God.”

“We will protect God in our public square," Trump said. "I will not allow the media or left-wing groups silence you, censor you, discriminate against you, or in any way tell you what you have to say."

Trump briefly mentioned his multiple criminal indictments, claiming them as political persecution.

“I take all these arrows for you and I’m so proud to take them,” he said. “I’m being indicted for you,” outstretching his arms as if on a cross.

He touted efforts to support Israel during his presidency, citing his administration’s move to relocate the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem – and pledged to “stand strongly” with Israel – prompting a standing ovation from much of the crowd.

Durussia Jenkins of Fredericksburg, Va., attends the 2024 NRB International Christian Media Convention sponsored by the National Religious Broadcasters association at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center in Nashville, Tenn., Thursday night, February 22, 2024.
Durussia Jenkins of Fredericksburg, Va., attends the 2024 NRB International Christian Media Convention sponsored by the National Religious Broadcasters association at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center in Nashville, Tenn., Thursday night, February 22, 2024.

During his speech, Trump invited former U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman up on stage to provide remarks. Friedman, who wore a medallion around his neck to remember the more than 100 Israeli hostages still in Hamas captivity, told Trump that the Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel “would not have happened,” had Trump still been in office.

The crowd stood cheering several times as Trump rolled through a list of other priorities, including expanding school choice options, abolishing the U. S. Department of Education, securing the southern U.S. border with Mexico, defeating the “toxic force of gender ideology,”  keeping “men out of women’s sports,” and “prohibiting child mutilation in all 50 states.”

“In the end, we do not answer to bureaucrats in Washington, we answer to God in heaven,” Trump said.

‘He’s one of us’

Those attending were overwhelmingly supportive of the former president, and much of the conference carried similar themes as his speech.

Washington state resident Fritz Von Tagen traveled to Nashville for the NRB conference to exhibit his company, which develops backgrounds for virtual reality television. Von Tagen, who was wearing a red MAGA hat and an Israeli flag lapel pin, said he hopes Trump is reelected for the sake of small business owners, like himself.

Evangelist Gerald Wallens spreads his message at the 2024 NRB International Christian Media Convention sponsored by the National Religious Broadcasters association at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center in Nashville, Tenn., Thursday night, February 22, 2024.
Evangelist Gerald Wallens spreads his message at the 2024 NRB International Christian Media Convention sponsored by the National Religious Broadcasters association at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center in Nashville, Tenn., Thursday night, February 22, 2024.

“I want to hear his plan to put our country back together. We’re hurting badly,” Von Tagen told The Tennessean. “Our company really started growing until this last administration. It’s doing well, but not near as well as it would normally.”

“There’s a lot more people working now that know nothing about the English language. They can’t speak English," Von Tagen added. "I feel bad that all those illegal people are taking jobs away from the Americans.”

Jim Sheldon, of Kentucky, whose company is also exhibiting at NRB, said he was looking forward to hearing directly from the former president with “no spin.”

“Trump is just, I think, one of us, really,” Sheldon said. “He’s a billionaire, but he’s one of us.”

Vivian Jones covers state politics and government for The Tennessean. Reach her at vjones@tennessean.com.

This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Trump vows to support Christianity if he tops Biden in 2024 election