Vice President Pence traveled to Louisiana on Friday to visit the pastors of three predominantly black churches that were burned down a month ago in a string of suspected arsons that recalled a dark history of hate-fueled attacks in the South.
The Trump administration’s message to parishioners working to rebuild their houses of worship, Pence told Fox News before he left, was that “we’re with them.”
“It will be my great honor to stand and pray with those pastors,” he said. “ . . . This administration stands with people of every faith in this nation, and we’ll always stand for religious freedom.”
The trip comes amid a disturbing spell of violent attacks against people of faith and the places where they worship — and little more than two weeks after an accidental fire devastated Notre Dame in Paris. Some have criticized the Trump administration for not responding faster to the attacks in southern Louisiana, just west of Baton Rouge, which occurred in late March and early April.
At a Rose Garden ceremony Thursday marking the National Day of Prayer, President Trump punctuated a policy announcement catered toward Christian conservatives with words of sympathy for the churches burned in St. Landry Parish, the churches bombed in Sri Lanka, the two mosques attacked in New Zealand, and the synagogues that were sites of gun violence in Pittsburgh and, most recently, Poway, Calif.
“We’ve seen evil and hate-filled attacks on religious communities in the United States and around the world,” the president said.
He continued, addressing the anti-Semitic attacks directly.
“We will fight with all our strength and everything that we have in our bodies to defeat anti-Semitism,” Trump said. “To end the attacks on the Jewish people and to conquer all forms of persecution, intolerance and hate.”
After the blaze at Notre Dame, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders issued a statement similar in its strongly worded support.
“Those bells will sound again,” she said of the French monument. “We stand with France today and offer our assistance in the rehabilitation of this irreplaceable symbol of Western civilization.”
Trump and Pence each tweeted about the fire as the news was breaking.
“So horrible to watch the massive fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris,” Trump wrote.
Pence said that it was “heartbreaking to see a house of God in flames.”
As the vice president made his way to Opelousas, La., on Friday, critics accused Trump and Pence of snubbing the members of the three churches there for weeks.
“So the @realDonalTrump finally discovered three Black churches in Louisiana were burned down,” commentator and TV host Roland Martin wrote in a tweet.
Last week, the Rev. Al Sharpton blasted the administration’s “deafening silence” on the church arsons, and former Louisiana congressional candidate Rob Anderson addressed the president directly in an April 17 tweet.
“Mr. President, you probably haven’t heard, but we had three historically black churches burn down in Louisiana in the past weeks,” he wrote. “You could, you know, look Presidential if you said a word or two and offered aid to our own country.”
In a statement to The Washington Post last month, Pence’s spokeswoman Alyssa Farah named the three torched churches and said, “When tragedy strikes in places of worship, people of all faiths unite.
“Our hearts go out to the members of the congregations of Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, St. Mary’s Baptist Church and Greater Union Baptist Church who were victims of arson,” Farah said.
From the charred remains of Mount Pleasant Baptist on Friday, Pence said that “what happened here was evil, but these communities of faith overcame evil with good.”
“On a foundation of faith & the generosity of people across this country,” he wrote in a tweet, “these churches will rebuild bigger & better than ever! God bless you all!”
John Wagner contributed to this report.