Advocates of LGBT rights and religious freedom denounced President Donald Trump as he became the first sitting president to address the Values Voter Summit on Friday. In his speech, Trump assured his supporters that Judeo-Christian religious values would be protected by his administration and pushed the narrative that social conservatives have been under attack in the U.S.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which classifies the Family Research Council, one of the groups behind the summit, as a hate group, tweeted about the gathering the president had chosen to address.
The FRC's website reads, "Homosexual conduct is harmful to the persons who engage in it and to society at large, and can never be affirmed...We oppose the vigorous efforts of homosexual activists to demand that homosexuality be accepted as equivalent to heterosexuality in law, in the media, and in schools."
The annual event is taking on a decidely anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant tone this year as well, with Brigitte Gabriel, Sebastian Gorka, and Steve Bannon speaking in addition to the president.
In his speech, Trump drew on his ubiquitous "Make America Great Again" slogan, promising a "return" to religious values supposedly upheld by the signers of the Declaration of Independence.
Despite a number of references to religious liberty, the president made clear throughout the speech that his concerns lie with the freedom to express Judeo-Christian beliefs. He invoked the alleged "War on Christmas," promising, "We are stopping cold the attacks on Judeo-Christian values."
He also addressed the Johnson Amendment, the law signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson eliminating religious organizations' tax-exempt status if they publicly advocate for political candidates. Trump touted his executive order which weakened the amendment earlier this year, touting his commitment to protecting Christian and Jewish leaders—but made no mention of other religious groups.
"We will not allow government workers to censor sermons or target our pastors or our ministers or rabbis," the president said. "These are the people we want to hear from, and they're not going to be silenced any longer."
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Trump, who has spent most of his life in socially progressive New York City, expressed liberal views about the LGBT community prior to his 2016 run, once saying he supported an amendment to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include discrimination based on sexual orientation and noting that he "grew up in New York City, a town with different races, religions, and peoples. It breeds tolerance."
But since announcing his presidential run in 2015, he's proven to be dependent on the support of groups like the Family Research Council. Opening his speech, he mentioned his affinity for groups that approve of his professed views.
Trump, speaking to the Values Voter Summit, says the people he likes are the people who said nice things about him before they met him.— Daniel Dale (@ddale8) October 13, 2017
On social media, rights groups and progressives spoke out against the president's speech—and the irony of his appearance before "Values Voters."
Trump is telling a coalition of hate groups how much he wants to protect their First Amendment rights. Black athletes? Not so much. #VVS17— Kaili Joy Gray (@KailiJoy) October 13, 2017
Trump says folks at #vvs17 “solute every American that wears the uniform.” Fact-check: Not if they're trans.— Ashley Dejean (@ashleydijon) October 13, 2017
People at the #VVS17 support Trump's decision to kick millions of Americans off their health insurance; some values.— Andrew Cyr (@AC0040) October 13, 2017