NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Former President Donald Trump vowed to use a second term in the White House to defend Christian values ​​and even suggested he would protect the faith’s central iconography, warning Thursday night a convention of religious stations that the left wants to “tear down crosses.”

“Remember, every communist regime throughout history has tried to eradicate churches, just as every fascist regime has tried to co-opt and control them. And, in America, the radical left is trying to do both,” Trump told hundreds of cheering attendees at the National Religious Broadcasters’ International Christian Media Convention in Nashville.

“They want to tear down crosses wherever they can and cover them with social justice flags,” Trump added. “But no one will touch the cross of Christ under the Trump administration, I swear.”

The promise to protect the symbol of Christianity recalled that the former president recently told the National Rifle Association: “No one will lay a finger on your firearms.” It also comes as mainstream conservatives have increasingly called on Trump to openly build his second term around Christian values ​​if he wins.

Trump is the favorite in a Republican primary in which the once-large field has been reduced to him and his former ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley. The Christian media gathering, where sponsors handed out free red and white baseball caps emblazoned with “Make America Pray Again,” was extremely friendly territory for the former president, whose speech often seemed more like a rally than a serious address from a convention.

“The left is trying to shame Christians,” Trump said. “They are trying to embarrass us. “I am a very proud Christian.”

Trump repeatedly brought the crowd to its feet and frequently defended his record on abortion, including his appointment of three conservative Supreme Court justices who helped overturn Roe v. Wade. But he notably didn’t mention the Alabama Supreme Court ruling that led providers there to suspend in vitro fertilization after judges ruled that frozen embryos could be considered children under state law.

President Joe Biden’s re-election campaign issued a blank statement on the matter Thursday night, ironically drawing attention to Trump’s lack of reaction to the “Alabama ruling on IVF for which he is responsible.”

Instead, Trump used his speech to boast that he had used his first term to do “more to defend religious freedom than any administration in history.”

“The enthusiasm for these elections that will be held in November is much greater than in 2016 or 2020,” he said. “Much older, it’s not even a contest.”

Tennessee holds its primary on Super Tuesday, March 5, when many states across the country vote and could put Trump on the cusp of claiming the Republican nomination.

Some faith leaders were initially hesitant to endorse Trump, a multi-divorced man, when he first ran for president in 2016, but are now among his largely solid base loyal to “Make America Great Again.”

That’s despite a personal history that has become more checkered in recent years, including Trump’s indictment in New York in connection with hush payments made to a porn actress in an attempt to suppress an extramarital affair.

“When it came on the scene, people were skeptical,” said Troy Miller, president and CEO of National Religion Broadcasters. “But I think as they’ve learned more and heard Donald Trump speak, the one thing I hear all the time from people… is that they really feel like Donald Trump understands them and that’s the biggest connection that the people do. “This is a guy in politics who understands us, who understands us, who doesn’t talk like he’s an elitist or belittle us.”

By Sam