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Donald Trump has accidentally told an audience of global religious leaders that America’s greatest accomplishments include the “abolition of civil rights” during the National Prayer Breakfast.
“Since the founding of our nation, many of our greatest strides, from gaining our independence to abolition of civil rights, to extending the vote for women, have been led by people of faith and started in prayer,” the president said on Thursday. “When we open our hearts to faith we fill our hearts with love.”
The president attended the breakfast in Washington, where speakers addressed the level of division in the country and what one described as a “fracturing of the American family.”
The annual gathering brought together members of the president’s Cabinet and members of Congress, including Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Among those delivering readings on Thursday was Michael Curry, a reverend who made headlines around the world with his stirring sermon about the power of love at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.
Mr Trump’s speech came after the president this week offered a fierce denunciation of late-term abortions in his annual State of the Union address, as he moved to re-energize evangelical voters who have been among his most loyal supporters and who will be vital in heading off any possible 2020 primary challenge.
The president also thanked Vice President Mike Pence’s wife, Karen Pence, for taking on her new job as a teacher “at a Christian school”.
Ms Pence has come under fire for the job after it was reported the school has a strict anti-LGBTQ enforcement policy in which students and their parents are not allowed to engage in homosexual acts.
Gary Haugen, of the International Justice Mission, spoke about a “fracturing of the American family” and described a “weary spirit of discouragement” in the country.
“For our American family, I do sense that we are in a national moment of perilously mounting discouragement,” he said. “Our tribal divisions, our institutional dysfunctions, our desperate winner-take-all contests of cultural resistance or survival, they seem to be pressing in our chests with a swelling anxiety of national disintegration.”
Still, he pointed to issues including criminal justice reform and combatting the opioid epidemic as areas in which the country could come together.
“Even in this divided era, there is good that we all agree should be done,” he said.
Guatemala’s ambassador to the US, Manuel Espina, offered prayers for Mr Trump, saying: “We pray that you’ll give him the wisdom and the knowledge to lead this country under your principles and guidance.”
Mr Trump received one of his largest standing ovations at the breakfast when he described all lives “sacred,” including those “born and unborn”.