WASHINGTON (UPI) — Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump addressed a large conference of evangelical Christians on Friday, saying people should not be judged based on their race.
Speaking from prepared text for the second time in as many public appearances, Trump delivered remarks aimed at bolstering his credentials with conservative religious voters.
He lauded “marriage and family as the building block of happiness and success.”
“I know many, many successful people,” Trump said. “The happiest people are the people that have that great religious feel, and that incredible marriage, children. It’s more important than the money, folks. Believe me, I know plenty with lots of money and they’re not happy people.”
Trump, who has proposed temporarily banning all Muslims from entering the United States, said the country should “respect and defend Christian-Americans.”
He also said the country should “restore respect for people of faith” generally.
Trump’s remarks came after a tumultuous week on the campaign trail, after he was criticized for remarks about the ethnicity of a federal judge overseeing his Trump University lawsuit. Trump referred to Judge Gonzalo Curiel as “Mexican” and said his heritage was the reason Curiel had ruled against him in court proceedings.
Curiel was born in Indiana to parents who emigrated from Mexico.
Trump said later he regretted that people “misconstrued” his remarks as an attack on all Mexican-Americans.
Speaking Friday, Trump told the evangelical gathering he does not believe race should be something on which individuals are judged.
“Religious freedom, the right of people of faith to freely practice their faith; it is so important,” Trump said. “Freedom of any kind means no one should be judged by their race or their color and the color of their skin.”
Trump criticized his likely Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton on several fronts, including her call for the United States to accept Syrian refugees, saying she wanted “a 500 percent increase” in Syrian refugees let into the United States.
“She’s crooked as they come. Refuses to say the words ‘radical Islam,'” he said.
Across town, Clinton spoke to Planned Parenthood and skewered Trump as a candidate seeking to “take America backward” on issues of race and women’s rights.
Trump’s speech was briefly interrupted by protesters chanting “stop hate, stop Trump.” They were quickly escorted out of the room.
Trump had a mixed record among religious conservatives during the primary campaign. While some flocked to him, others regarded his controversial statements on race and ethnicity as an affront and instead backed Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.
Since Cruz dropped out, an ABC News-Washington Post poll found Trump’s share of the evangelical vote has increased. Trump holds a 59-point lead over Hillary Clinton among self-identified white Protestant evangelicals, with 76 percent support nationally.
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