Remarks by the Vice President to Students at Ave Maria University in Ave Maria, Florida
Thank you, President Towey. Thank you for — thank you for your kindness. Thank you for your friendship. I actually gave him a ride on Air Force Two just so he could make it back for this event. (Laughter.) Give a big round of applause for a man that's made an incredible difference in the life of this university — Jim Towey. (Applause.) Truly a servant leader and a humble man, and a great, great friend to everything that we cherish.
Thank you all for that wonderful, warm welcome. I will tell you that that introduction was gracious and kind, but Jim knows the one I prefer is even shorter: I'm a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican, in that order, and it's an honor to be with all of you today. (Applause.)
To Chairman Timmis, to the Board of Trustees, distinguished members of the faculty, to the students of this remarkable school: It is an honor here to join you in this place, founded in fidelity to Christ, Ave Maria University. Give yourselves a round of applause. (Applause.) A special place.
And allow me to bring greetings from a friend of mine and a great friend of the state of Florida, of this great university, and a champion of people of faith across this country and around the world. I bring greetings from the 45th President of the United States of America, President Donald Trump. (Applause.)
You know, as the President said at the National Prayer Breakfast earlier this year, in his words, "Since the founding of our nation, many of our greatest strides — from gaining independence, to abolition, to civil rights…have been led by people of faith and started [with] prayer."
And I'm here, first and foremost, to thank the entire community here at Ave Maria University for the critical work you do to educate America's next generation of leaders, public servants, and leaders in faith all across America. Give this faculty a round of applause, will you, please? (Applause.)
And as I just learned during a tour of your museum, Ave Maria instills a strong sense of responsibility and compassion, mission and self-sacrifice, in its students through its first-of-its-kind program in the world, the Mother Teresa Project. It's truly inspiring.
In this academic year alone, I learned that students in the Mother Teresa Project have volunteered thousands of hours with Habitat for Humanity in local schools, in nursing homes, and in missions across the globe — from Mexico, to Uganda, to India.
So thank you for putting feet on your faith, impacting this community, this state, our nation, and the world. We're proud of all of you. (Applause.)
And through it all, you've carried forth the values that we share, and chief among them, the men and women of Ave Maria University have stood without apology for the sanctity of human life. (Applause.)
You know, I've long believed that a society can be judged by how it treats its most vulnerable: the aged, the infirm, the disabled, and the unborn. And I couldn't be more proud to serve alongside the most pro-life President in American history, President Donald Trump. (Applause.)
The record speaks for itself. In one of his first acts as President, President Trump reinstated the Mexico City Policy, preventing taxpayer dollars from funding abortion or abortion providers around the world. And we recently expanded that policy just in the past few days.
Here at home, President Trump signed a law making it possible for all 50 states to defund Planned Parenthood. (Applause.)
The truth is — and I see it in the shining faces here at Ave Maria University — life is winning in America. Particularly more and more young people across this country are embracing the sanctity of life. But for all the progress we're making at the very moment that more Americans than ever before are embracing the sanctity of life, the truth is: Leading members of the Democratic Party across this country are embracing a radical agenda of abortion on demand. You've seen it in the newspapers. In state legislatures across the country, Democrats have endorsed late-term abortion. In fact, the Governor of Virginia openly defended infanticide just a few short weeks ago.
And Democrats in the United States Senate — and you deserve to know — including every Democrat senator running for President voted, against a bill that would protect children who had been born alive.
The truth is, with Democrats standing for late-term abortion, infanticide, and a culture of death, I promise you this President, our party, and this movement will always stand for the sanctity of human life. (Applause.)
Just like Ave Maria did, not long ago, it was just a few years ago when Ave Maria didn't bow to the dictates of the last administration. This university stood strong for conscience and values. Ave Maria spoke out against the last administration's attempt to force employers to provide health insurance plans that violated pro-life principles within Obamacare. And not only did Ave Maria University refuse to comply with that mandate, you challenged it and you won. (Applause.) And we commend you for your stand.
And President Trump promised to stand with you — and we did — and all of those struggling under that HHS mandate, which is why we created a religious and moral exemption to the federal rule, so that all Americans can live out their faith freely in the healthcare system of this country. (Applause.)
You know, the truth is, Obamacare restricted freedom, and it's reduced choices. And Obamacare has failed. And American families and businesses are still paying the price.
We all remember the broken promises of Obamacare. They told us if you liked your doctor, you could keep your doctor; if you liked your health plan, you could keep it; that if Obamacare passed, health insurance premiums would go down. But unfortunately, none of that was true.
Costs have skyrocketed. Premiums on the individual market rose by more than 100 percent. Choices have plummeted. And more and more insurance companies have pulled out of the marketplace entirely.
And as Obamacare fails, you deserve to know that Democrats are continuing in their quest for a government takeover of healthcare. They're opening calling for socialized medicine under the guise of Medicare for All.
Well, the truth of the matter is, Medicare for All means quality healthcare for none. Socialized medicine will lead our country to ration healthcare and to government bureaucrats making the most important decisions affecting our lives and the lives of our loved ones.
But as President Trump said just recently, soon the Republican Party will become known as the "Party of Healthcare." And we're going to have a great healthcare plan for all of the American people. (Applause.)
This week, the President took a decisive step to repeal and replace Obamacare. And I want to promise you: We will never give up, we will never relent, in our effort to put American healthcare back on the path to more choices, more affordability, built on the principles of freedom and the doctor-patient relationship. That's our pledge to each of you in this rising generation.
And let me assure all of you here in the Ave Maria community: You also have an ally and a champion in President Trump when it comes to our core freedoms. We will always stand with you, as we will always stand with all those who share our values. We will always defend your fundamental right to freedom.
As we all learned from our youth, the United States was forged in religious freedom. Our first settlers were pilgrims who left everything and set sail for a New World; carved out a new home in the wilderness where they could practice their faith freely and without fear of persecution.
And after this great nation secured our independence, the American Founders enshrined that first freedom in our First Amendment with these words: that "Congress shall make no law respecting [the] establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."
Our Founders knew that this precious liberty was not granted by government and could not be granted by government. They knew, as we know today, that we are "endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights."
And the truth is, as I stand before you today, freedom of religion is increasingly under attack here at home. Lately, it's actually become fashionable for media elites and Hollywood liberals to mock religious belief. My own family became the target of these attacks after my wife went back to teach art at a Christian school.
So let me say from my heart — not for us, but for every believer in this country: These attacks on believing Christians and Christian education are wrong, and they must stop. (Applause.) They're antithetical to our great American tradition. And, frankly, they should be rejected by every American of every faith.
Now, I'm proud to say, since day one of this administration, President Trump has taken bold action to protect religious liberty and the freedom of conscience of every American of every faith tradition.
In our first year, the President declared, in his words, that the "federal government will never, ever penalize any person for their protected religious beliefs," and he directed the Department of Justice to develop new protections for Americans of faith.
We made sure the free exercise of religion doesn't stop at the doors of our churches or houses of worship when we suspended enforcement of the Johnson Amendment and we freed up the voices of religious leaders all over the country. (Applause.)
Just last week, President Trump signed an executive order, as well, to ensure that America's First Amendment protections extend to every college and university campus in America. (Applause.)
And I want to promise you: Wherever your countries take you from here, Ave Maria University, we will always stand with thoughtful young men and women like you across this country who deserve to live out your faith, live out your values without repercussions or persecution. There should be no "safe zones" from the God-given liberties of the American people. And we will stand for the freedom of speech, the freedom of expression on every campus in America. (Applause.)
Now, as we defend liberty here at home, our administration has been standing strong for freedom around the world. And nowhere is that more true than in the stand that we've taken for freedom and democracy in Venezuela.
Let me take this opportunity to thank a local leader, who's a national leader. He's been a champion of freedom in this hemisphere and a champion of restoring freedom and liberty and democracy for the Venezuelan people. Would you join me in thanking Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart for his outstanding leadership for freedom? (Applause.) He's been a great champion, along with both of your senators, for the restoration of freedom in Venezuela. And, Mario, we're proud and grateful — grateful for your heart for libertad.
You know, the truth is Venezuela was once one of the richest and most vibrant democracies in the Western Hemisphere. By some estimates, Venezuela actually is home to the largest oil reserves in the world. But under the brutal regime of the dictator Nicolas Maduro and his socialist rule, it's become one of the poorest and most despotic countries in the world.
Today, 9 out of 10 Venezuelans live in poverty. More than 3 million people have already abandoned their homes and fled the brutality of the Maduro regime.
I was recently in Colombia and met with families who had fled not just the oppression but the starvation that's facing millions in that once rich country. It was heartbreaking, a story that I heard in my first trip to Colombia, of a grandmother who had gathered up her five grandchildren and made the long march across Venezuela to the Colombia border two years ago, because she said it had gotten so bad in her village that her grandchildren had to rise at four in the morning to get a ticket that they could exchange for a single piece of bread at four in the afternoon.
And I'm proud to say, since early in this administration, with the strong support of leaders in Congress, President Trump has led an effort to isolate the dictator Maduro through economic and diplomatic means.
The United States was proud to be the first nation on Earth to recognize Interim President Juan Guaidó as the rightful President of Venezuela. And now, more than 50 nations have joined us. (Applause.)
Yesterday, President Trump and I met at the White House with Fabiana, the wife of Juan Guaidó. She's 26 years old — a young woman of extraordinary courage and grace. She'll meet today with our First Lady, Melania Trump, here in Florida. We told her then, in the Oval Office of the White House, the United States will continue to stand with her, with President Guaidó, and with the people of Venezuela until their libertad and democracy is restored. (Applause.)
So we've been standing for freedom. For, as many of you have seen firsthand on your mission trips around the world, religious liberty is also under attack.
Today, tragically, 82 percent of the world's people live in nations where religious freedom is either threatened or banned outright. The list of religious freedom violators is long. Their crimes and oppression span the width and breadth of our globe.
Here in our own hemisphere, the government of Daniel Ortega is virtually waging war on the Nicaraguan Catholic Church. Government-backed mobs armed with machetes and even heavy weapons have attacked parishes and churches. Bishops and priests have been physically assaulted by their secret police. And hundreds of courageous Nicaraguans have died in the cause of freedom in the last year alone.
I'll never forget the day I met one of those parish priests at a conference at the State Department. He talked about the siege of their church and how young people had come in to take shelter, and that when it was all over and the violence had ended and they left, he walked up to me and he said there was a young man in the group who described himself as an atheist.
But as they were walking out of the church, he walked up to that courageous priest; he had seen his faith in action. He had seen him pray under a hail of gunfire; put himself in harm's way to protect the other young people there. And he said, that young man who said he was an atheist — said, and I quote — he said, "Father, I don't believe in God. But if I ever believe in God, I'm going to believe in your God." That's faith. That's courage in action. And we will stand for freedom for the people of Nicaragua, and we will stand with the people of faith in that nation. (Applause.)
Farther from home, but close to our hearts, the world watched in horror earlier this month as a terrorist murdered 50 innocent Muslims at prayer in New Zealand. It was a horrific sight, and our hearts and our prayers went out and go out to every member of the community that was affected and the people of New Zealand.
No one should ever fear for their safety in a place of worship — be that a mosque, or a church, or a synagogue — anywhere in the world. (Applause.) The hateful animus that motivated that killer is to be condemned universally around the world.
And all of us are also witnessing the terrible scourge of anti-Semitism. It's rearing its ugly head — from Iran, to Europe, even in the halls Congress. Let me be clear on this: Anti-Semitism is not just wrong; it's evil. And anti-Semitism, like every form of racism, must be confronted wherever and whenever it arises, and it must be universally condemned. (Applause.)
The truth is, nowhere have people of faith faced greater threats than in the ancient lands where the world's three great religions were born across the Middle East.
Since 2014, the brutal regime of ISIS murdered thousands of Christians and forced hundreds of thousands of them to flee their homes. And it's not just Christians. Believers of many other faiths have suffered grievously at ISIS's hands, including Muslims, Druze, and Yazidis. I met this week with the Speaker of the Iraqi Parliament in my office, and we spoke of the barbarous reign of ISIS in its time and how they particularly targeted religious minorities and Christians.
The good news is, President Trump promised to destroy the ISIS caliphate. And thanks to the courage of our armed forces and this Commander-in-Chief, America and our allies delivered. The ISIS caliphate is no more. (Applause.)
As the world learned just last weekend, the last inch of control of the ISIS caliphate was captured by American forces and by our allies in the region. And while we've liberated millions of religious minorities and captive Christians across the Middle East from the grip of ISIS, I'm proud to tell you that we've also been helping persecuted communities rebuild their communities and their lives, and replant their roots in their ancestral homes so destroyed by war.
At President Trump's direction, for the first time ever, the United States of America is providing direct support to Christians and religious minorities in the Middle East to rebuild their communities. (Applause.)
As I stand before you today, we've already committed more than $340 million in aid. And, I'm proud to say, we're continuing to work with a strong range of nongovernmental organizations — NGOs, as they are known — including the great ministry of the Knights of Columbus. (Applause.) We're going to rebuild these communities. We're going to work with our partners across the Nineveh Plain, Iraq, the Kurdish region of Iraq. And we're going to see these communities come home.
Religious persecution is also growing in the world's most populous nation: China. The State Department's annual International Religious Freedom report has labeled China as a religious freedom violator every year since 1999.
As we stand here today, Beijing is holding possibly millions of Muslim Uighurs in so-called "re-education camps" in Western China. Chinese authorities have banned the sale of Christian Bibles. They've destroyed thousands of crosses and other church symbols. And they've jailed pastors.
Even now, the Chinese government is using the power of cutting-edge technology to develop large-scale systems of surveillance to track its citizens — an effort that our Ambassador-at-Large for Religious Freedom, Sam Brownback, called "the future of repression."
These are historic human rights abuses, and I want to promise all of you: Our administration is going to continue to stand strong and speak out and work to convince China that these practices are abhorrent and they should be stopped. (Applause.)
But despite the heavy hand of that government, the good news is, the good news is spreading. (Laughter.) And the truth is, nowhere in its history has the Church grown as quickly as it's growing in China. Seventy years ago, when the Communist Party took power, there were less than half a million Chinese Christians. Today, just two generations later, some estimate that there are 130 [million] Christians living throughout China, proving once again what's been true throughout the history of the Church: When persecution comes, faith grows.
Persecuted Christians around the world deserve our prayers. And they will always have the support of the American people. (Applause.)
As you venture out on mission trips, know that our administration will always continue to stand for liberty and religious liberty throughout the wider world.
You know, it really is an honor to be with all of you — these incredible, bright shining faces here at Ave Maria University. Just think of me as a warm-up act for commencement in five weeks. (Laughter.)
But I'm here to tell you this is a serious time in the life of our nation. And to stand before such impressive young men and women, it's a great honor for me and it's a privilege.
The truth is, in the next 19 months, America will face a choice. And the challenge before us is not just about winning an election; we must win the next generation. And that's where you all come in. Your faith, your integrity, your character — all of which the foundation has been strengthened here at Ave Maria University — will make you leaders in the rising generation. You'll stand out.
So I want to offer you a challenge: What you've seen and heard and learned in the hallways of this still-young university, carry from here as you lead lives of consequence in your generation. Live out your faith. Live out your values. "Always be prepared," as the Bible tells us, "to give a reason for the hope that you have, but do so with gentleness and respect."
On my way here, on Air Force Two, I was reading in my morning devotions the story of the farmer that went out to sow seed in Luke, Chapter 8. The story reads, "The seed that fell on good soil, it yielded a crop 100 times more than was sown."
And I stand before this impressive group of young people, and those looking on, to say that's what you must aspire to be. It's interesting that Jesus later pulled aside his disciples and explained to them what the meaning of the parable was and how it had to do with the character of the men and women. He said, and I quote, "The seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and, by persevering, produce a crop."
So I want to challenge each one of you to act on those words in your life. First, be hearers of the word. You know, it's always struck me that Psalm 1, Psalm 19, and Psalm 119 — the first Psalm and the longest Psalm — all have to do with one idea, and that is: Read the word. Take time in your life. Blessed is a man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners, or sit in the seat of mockers, but what? His delight is in the law of the Lord, and on His law he meditates day and night, and be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he or she does prospers. What a promise.
So I'd just encourage you, as a fellow believer: Hear it, retain it, live it out as best you can, and persevere. I don't know if you caught that in the verse, but it said, by "persevering" it produced a crop.
And the truth is, those of you who are willing to stand for faith and values in this rising generation, you're going to face criticism and what passes in this country for persecution. That's where your perseverance comes in, to turn your face like flint against the wind, and smile and show that conviction and show that love to everybody that you meet.
You know, I'll always believe the essence of leadership is what's in your heart. People follow people that they trust. And when you know somebody's heart, you trust them. So let people see your heart and persevere.
Now, my favorite President is the one I go to work with every day. (Laughter.) But one of my other favorites was Calvin Coolidge, who had some words about perseverance that I've actually got tacked to the bulletin board in our office at the Vice President's Residence, and they're really words to live by. Calvin Coolidge was a man of faith. He was also a Vice President. (Laughter.) He'd been a governor. (Laughter.) But I digress. (Laughter.)
Calvin Coolidge said, and I quote, "Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan 'Press On!' has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race."
So I encourage you to press on and know that you can make a difference. Be men and women with good and noble hearts. Store up God's word in those hearts. Retain it and preserve. And remember the words I read a little bit later in Luke, Chapter 8, as well. There's a reason you're here. There's a reason all of you have been blessed with an education of this magnitude with such a solid foundation and timeless values, and to the ideals that have made this country great.
I think it can be found in the rest of that chapter to remember no one — "No one lights a lamp and hides it in a jar and puts it under a bed. Instead he puts it on a stand so that those who come in can see [it]."
When you leave here and you leave Ave Maria University, let your light shine. You'll make a difference in the life of this nation and in the world.
So thank you for the honor of addressing all of you today. The future beckons, and I believe it will be a future where we — with men and women in this rising generation, where we recommit ourselves to all the ideals that have always made this country strong and prosperous and secure and free.
It's going to be a foundation forged on our most cherished institutions of faith and family and freedom. I believe it with all my heart. I see it happening all over the country, everywhere I go.
And as you do that, as you step out as leaders, I just saw, a few moments ago, one last admonition from Mother Teresa, and I'm going to take it back with me.
She said, "At the end of life, we will not be judged by how many diplomas we've received, how much money we've made, [or] how many great things we have done. We will be judged by 'I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat. I was naked, and you clothed me. I was homeless, and you took me in.'"
Be men and women of compassion, men and women of conviction. Be men and women who are leading in this generation. And I know that, as you live out that high calling — with your example, with your lives of consequence, with great institutions like Ave Maria University, with strong leaders elected at every level around the country who share our values, with President Donald Trump in the White House, and with God's help — I know we're just getting started. And we will make America great again. Thank you all very much. (Applause.)
God bless you. And God bless America.
Mike Pence, Remarks by the Vice President to Students at Ave Maria University in Ave Maria, Florida Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/334840