At Wednesday's White House press briefing, FOX News' Ed Henry grilled WH press secretary Josh Earnest on why the White House invoked religion in the murder of three Muslim UNC students but not in the case of the 21 Coptic Christians beheaded by terrorists over the weekend. In a statement issued by Earnest the Coptic Christians were referred to as "Egyptian citizens."
ED HENRY, FOX NEWS: In your answer to Kristen [Welker]'s question about 21 Christians being killed this weekend you said the president put out a strong statement this week.
The statement on Sunday was from you. It said statement by the press secretary, we should be clear it was not a statement from the president.
JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE: Yeah, I misspoke.
HENRY: Okay, I just want to be clear.
And in that statement -- that's what I want to ask you because you put it out under your name -- you talked about the murder of 21 citizens and I'm curious why didn't you mention it was 21 Christians killed by Muslims? Is that relevant?
EARNEST: It sure is because the ISIL -- the ISIL extremists who carried out this attack indicated that the reason they were killing them wasn't just because they were Egyptian but also because they were Christian. And I think the president has been very clear that it is -- you know, the president talked about this actually in his prayer breakfast speech that he gave earlier this month. That there's a responsibility of people of all faiths to stand up and speak out when individuals try to use faith and distort faith to try to justify the act of violence.
HENRY: Given that then why were you not clear on Sunday? Why not under your name? Why didn't you say 21 Christians were killed?
EARNEST: Well, Ed, I try to be clear here. I can't account for that specific line in the statement but we have been clear there that we condemn this murder. The president was clear in the op-ed that was published today and on a variety of occasions I think I have been pretty clear here that we condemn the outrageous killing of these Egyptian citizens because of their Christian faith.
HENRY: Two days earlier on the 13th you put out a statement under the president's name about the tragic deaths of the three Muslim students at the University of North Carolina and in there the president said, "no one in the United States of America should ever be targeted because of who they are and what they look like or how they worship."
Why was their Muslim faith relevant in that statement?
EARNEST: Well, Ed, I think that as we've indicated the situation in North Carolina is still under investigation. And local law enforcement authorities there are trying to determine exactly what the motivation of the individual that has been charged with this crime was. And so that's still under investigation.
But what is clear is that there is this principle that exists regardless of the faith of the individual in question that people should not be targeted because of their religion and what they look like or what their last name is or how they worshiped. That is true --
HENRY: Is there any evidence in the North Carolina case that they were targeted because they were Muslims?
EARNEST: This is still something that's under --
HENRY: They said it was over a parking space. We don't know. It's a local investigation right now, as you've said. So why was their faith invoked in the president's statement?
EARNEST: Well, Ed, I think it is important for the president in this case as he has in many others to articulate a pretty clear principle and I think that it's the kind of principle that the vast majority of Americans should be able to support. Which is that people should not regardless of their faith be targeted because of what their last name is, what they look like or how they worship.
HENRY: We don't know that they were targeted because of their last name or their faith.
EARNEST: So I guess, Ed, what you can -- and I think that is acknowledged in the statement as well. And we have also acknowledge this is an issue that's under investigation in North Carolina. But I think as a principle, this is the kind of thing that we should all be able to agree with.