Vice President Mike Pence said Friday “freedom of religion is under attack” in the United States, citing as an example criticism over his wife Karen Pence’s decision to teach at a school that refuses to admit LGBT students or teachers.
“The freedom of religion is not just enshrined in the Constitution, it’s enshrined in the hearts of the American people,” Pence said. “But make no mistake about it. The freedom of religion is under attack in this country. Lately, it’s actually become fashionable for media elites and Hollywood liberals to mock religious belief.”
Pence made the remarks to great applause to the 2019 Conservative Political Action Conference in a speech infused with religious language. Lauding President Trump, Pence said the administration has taken actions that have advanced the security and prosperity of the United States and religious freedom.
Asserting religious freedom is under attack, Pence referenced his wife’s decision to teach art at the Immanuel Christian School in Springfield, Va., which does not allow LGBT students or families to enroll and won’t employ LGBT applicants. The decision by Karen Pence inspired an outcry among LGBT rights supporters who said the second lady shouldn’t be teaching at the school.
“My own family recently came under attack just because my wife Karen went back to teach art to children at a Christian school,” Pence said. “Let me say before all of you, I couldn’t be more proud of my wife.”
Karen Pence was present in the CPAC audience, which applauded upon her husband’s praise of her. The vice president joined the applause. The second lady appeared emotional and gave a brief wave to the crowd.
“She’s a Marine Corps mom, she’s a great school teacher and Karen Pence is a great second lady for the United States of America,” Pence said.
It’s the not the first time Pence has defended the second lady over criticism based on her decision to teach at the anti-LGBT school. During an interview with EWTN Global Catholic Network, Pence said he was “deeply offended” by the criticism.
Pence stated a commitment to religious freedom — often a term used to mean anti-LGBT discrimination — after hailing Trump’s appointment of conservatives like Justice Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh to the judiciary.
“They’re conservatives who will uphold all of the God-given liberties enshrined in our Constitution, like the freedom of speech, the freedom of religion and the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms,” Pence said.
In their short time on the bench, Gorsuch and Kavanaugh have already issued decisions against LGBT rights, such as lifting court orders to allow the Trump administration to enact its ban on transgender people in the military.
As anti-LGBT groups are asserting a religious freedom right to refuse services to LGBT people and deny LGBT parents adoption rights, Pence said the Trump administration’s position was clear.
“It’s about the sincerely held belief of millions of Americans who cherish their Christian faith and Christian education.” Pence said. “I’ll make you a promise: Under this president and this administration, we will always stand with people of faith, we will always defend the freedom of religion of every American of every faith so help us God.”
Pence has a long anti-LGBT history that includes votes as a congressman against “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal and opposition to marriage equality. His record notably includes signing into law as Indiana governor a “religious freedom” widely seen to enable anti-LGBT discrimination.
Pence indicated through a spokesperson he supports the Trump administration’s recently announced global initiative to decriminalize homosexuality in countries where it is illegal, such as Iran.
Although that position contrasts with Pence’s record on LGBT rights, it’s consistent with his criticism of Iran — a view he articulated during his speech at CPAC.
“The Islamic Republic of Iran is the leading state sponsor of terror in the world,” Pence said. “Iran supports terrorist proxies, fuels conflicts in the region, plots terrorist attacks on European soil and openly advocates the destruction of the state of Israel.”
Pence recalled a recent to trip to Europe and visiting Auschwitz, where during the Holocaust Nazi Germany operated a concentration camp as part of its effort to kill an estimated 6 million Jewish people. In a somber moment during his speech, Pence said he and the second lady prayed there.
“The history of that time must never be forgotten,” Pence said. “We mourn with those mourn and grieve with those who grieve, but we say from our heart, ‘never again.’”
A good portion of his speech was also devoted to denouncing socialism at a time when many Democrats are embracing Medicare for All and a Green New Deal to confront climate change.
“To keep on winning, my fellow conservatives, we have a choice to make in the next 20 months, will we re-elect a president who is making America great again for four more years, or will we let the Democrats take America on a hard-left turn and lose all the gains that we’ve fought so hard to make?” Pence said.