December 9, 2015 2:12 PM EST

President Obama and congressional leaders traveled to the Capitol Building’s Emancipation Hall Wednesday to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the abolition of slavery, with the President using the ceremony both to laud the nation’s early civil rights heroes and to criticize Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump for his recent comments about banning Muslims.

Obama commended the reformers whose “passion only drove the protectors of the status quo to dig in,” and who ultimately prevailed in bringing an end to the “peculiar institution” of slavery with the passage of the 13th Amendment. Their drive, Obama said helped inspire generations of Americans who continued to fight for the civil rights and liberties for all in America.

In his first public speech since Donald Trump’s widely condemned statements calling for a ban on Muslims entering the U.S., the President also used his moment to juxtapose his vision of America with the leading Republican presidential candidate. Obama warned against falling victim to cynicism and fear, receiving a standing ovation from the gathered crowd after stating that the freedom of all Americans is “bound up with the freedom of others—regardless of what they look like…or what faith they practice.”

“We condemn ourselves to shackles once more if we fail to answer those who wonder if they’re truly equals in their communities,” Obama added. “We betray our most noble past as well if we were to deny the…possibility of progress.”

The President’s statements on Wednesday echo those made in an address to the nation over the weekend when he called on Americans to reject discrimination in the wake of recent terror attacks. “When we travel down that road, we lose,” he said on Sunday evening. “That kind of divisiveness, that betrayal of our values plays into the hands of groups like ISIL.”

Obama’s comments at the ceremony come after White House officials previously blasted Trump’s statements on Muslims. On Tuesday, Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Trump’s remarks should disqualify him from serving as president.




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