Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is driving an anti-gay, anti-abortion religious freedom agenda with regard to a report he commissioned last July that is due to be released in days. The report will frame the State Department’s approach to LGBT and women’s rights abroad, rights that are already under attack globally during the coronavirus pandemic. Many countries are using the pandemic to enforce anti-gay and gender-based “reforms” and restrictions on women and LGBT people.
Human rights observers warn that Secretary Pompeo has already signaled the document will promote his religious beliefs and will focus on “the nation’s founding principles.” Their concerns are that Pompeo’s long-held anti-gay beliefs will be supported by the commission’s report. Pompeo has decried the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling granting marriage equality to all fifty states as “a shocking abuse of power” that “flies in the face of centuries of shared understanding of our Constitution.”
Pompeo has said, “As a Kansan, I hold a deep reverence for the sanctity of life, the solidarity of family, and the solemnity of marriage. I will continue the fight to uphold these fundamental ideals each and every day. I am, and always will be, pro-life and will defend life from conception to natural death. I will continue to oppose any taxpayer funding for abortion. I also fully support the traditional institution of marriage. Strong families are the most important building block of our Republic, and we must preserve them for the sake of our community and our culture.”
With regard to the commission, Pompeo said that “the previous administration” did not support religious freedom and he intends to correct that and “uphold religious freedom as America’s most fundamental value.”
Two Democratic representatives, Jamie Raskin of Maryland and Joaquin Castro of Texas, released a statement that warned the commission’s report could “undermine our nation’s ability to lead on critical issues of universal human rights, including reproductive freedom and protections for millions of people globally in the LGBTQ community.”
Previously, the focus of the State Department abroad has been human rights, not American religious fundamentalism. Pompeo is one of many evangelical Christians in President Trump’s Cabinet.
Last July Pompeo created the human rights advisory panel, called the Commission on Unalienable Rights in the State Department. He named a conservative law professor, Mary Ann Glendon, as its chairwoman. Glendon is a conservative Harvard Law School professor and former ambassador to the Vatican.
The role of the commission, as reported in the New York Times, is to “review and tighten the agency’s definition of human rights and ensure it is grounded in the nation’s founding principles.”
At the time, Pompeo said, “International institutions designed and built to protect human rights have drifted from their original mission. As human rights claims have proliferated, some claims have come into tension with one another, provoking questions and clashes about which rights are entitled to gain respect.”
Pompeo has already ordered the withholding of funding from the U.S. to foreign groups that perform abortions. The announcement was an expansion of a 2017 administration announcement that reinstated an anti-abortion policy from 1984 that critics call the
“global gag rule.” And in August 2019, Pompeo held the second Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, a three-day forum in Washington.
Rep. Eliot L. Engel (D-NY), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said, “This commission risks undermining many international human rights norms that the United States helped establish, including LGBTQI rights and other critical human rights protections around the world.”
American diplomats say there has already been a rollback of gay rights advocacy at the State Department. In 2019, the State Department ordered embassies not to fly rainbow flags for Pride month–a striking contrast to Hillary Clinton’s strong support for LGBTQI rights abroad. In a 2011 speech in Geneva, then-Secretary Clinton became the highest placed global leader to assert “gay rights are human rights.”
When he spoke about the commission, Pompeo said, “What does it mean to say or claim that something is, in fact, a human right? How do we know or how do we determine whether that claim that this or that is a human right, is it true, and therefore, ought it to be honored?”
According to the New York Times, several human rights organizations have sued the State Department, saying it is violating a federal law that requires advisory panels like the Commission on Unalienable Rights to be “fairly balanced” and transparent with meeting documents at the time of hearings.
The lawsuit is pending, and lawyers representing the State Department said last week the committee would invite public comment on the report before the commission’s
work concluded. But human rights advocates assert that no changes will be made to the report, which is driven by Pompeo and Glendon’s focus on prioritizing religious freedom as America’s most valued human right.
Prior to being named Secretary of State, Pompeo was CIA director. In 2017 he canceled a planned speech at the CIA about diversity and LGBTQ rights set to be given by Judy and Dennis Shepard, founders of the Matthew Shepard Foundation. Pompeo also regularly consulted with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, an anti-LGBT hate group.