Faith groups urge State Department to abolish new ‘unalienable rights’ commission

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference in Washington March 25, 2019. (CNS photo/Brendan McDermid, Reuters)

(RNS) — A coalition of 430 human rights, civil rights, foreign policy and faith organizations, leaders and scholars has submitted a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urging him to dismantle his department’s new Commission on Unalienable Rights.

Organized by Human Rights First, the letter’s signatories include 21 American religious leaders and dozens of faith-based organizations, including the Presbyterian Church (USA), American Jewish World Service, T’ruah, Reconstructing Judaism, the Anti-Defamation League, the National Council of Churches, Muslims for Progressive Values and Catholics for Choice, as well as secularist groups like American Atheists and the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

Advertisement

“(W)e view with great misgiving a body established by the U.S. government aimed expressly at circumscribing rights through an artificial sorting of those that are ‘unalienable’ and those to be now deemed ‘ad hoc,’” the letter reads. “These terms simply have no place in human rights discourse.”

“These terms simply have no place in human rights discourse.”

[Don’t miss the latest news from the church and the world. Sign up for our daily newsletter.]

Experts in the field of human rights began raising alarms immediately after Pompeo named the chairwoman and 10 members of the commission, which he described July 8 as a panel that would use a “natural law” framework to help guide what the U.S. considers a human right.

Opponents accused Pompeo of using the commission to dismiss rights as they’ve been defined by human rights experts and advocates of minority groups in recent decades.

“The fact that they seem to want to rank human rights, prioritizing some rights over others, resulted in immense concern and criticism that this is in actuality an effort to provide intellectual top cover to what is really an exercise in circumscribing the rights of gay people and laying the foundation for a particular position within the abortion wars,” said Rob Berschinski, Human Rights First’s senior vice president for policy.

While the commissioners comprised a diverse group of eminent scholars and prominent clergy, their backgrounds largely centered on religious liberty issues and “shared an overwhelming interest in limiting the rights of LGBT people and reproductive rights,” Berschinski told Religion News Service.

[Want to discuss politics with other America readers? Join our Facebook discussion group, moderated by America’s writers and editors.]

Several commissioners’ public statements in the past against contraception and same-sex marriage and in support of dictatorial regimes “clearly go against the grain” of current human rights discourse, Berschinski said.

separate letter sent to Pompeo last week was signed by 125 Catholic theologians and activists –  including Miguel Diaz, a former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican under President Obama – calling for the immediate abolition of the commission.

“Our faith and our commitment to the principles of democracy require us to view every person on earth as a full human being,” they wrote. “We staunchly support the fundamental human rights of all people and proudly carry on the long tradition in our country of advocating for expanding human rights around the world.”

Muslim activists have also called on Sheikh Hamza Yusuf, a prominent Sunni scholar who is the only Muslim member of the commission, to step down.

But some religious groups and religious liberty groups have applauded the commission. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom’s chairman said the new panel would ensure that the protection of religious liberty is “a core element of strategic policy discussions.”

The Center for Family and Human Rights, a Catholic think tank, said in an email to supporters that the commission would “aim an intellectual dagger at the heart of the radical expansion of rights that are not rights that the hard left promotes at the UN; the ‘right’ to abortion, the ‘right’ to sodomy, the ‘right’ to gender expression.”

“Among the myriad of problems with these new rights, immorality for one, is that these new rights that are not rights have the inevitable tendency to undermine fundamental rights, like the right to religious freedom, the right to speech, and much else,” the center’s president, Austin Ruse, wrote. “We view this new Commission kind of like the cavalry coming to the aid of settlers under siege by savages.”

The State Department did not respond to a request for comment.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Charles Erlinger
7 months ago

My inclination would be to welcome the opportunity for rational engagement on this subject, while being prepared to expose propagandistic campaigns that will surely form for the occasion.

Advertisement

The latest from america

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden meets with attendees during a campaign event, Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020, in Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
The only Democratic candidate whom a majority of poll respondents viewed as very or somewhat religious is former Vice President Joe Biden, who appeared at public events on Ash Wednesday with ashes on his forehead.
Michael J. O’LoughlinFebruary 27, 2020
Anyone dissatisfied with the current state of elementary and high school education might ask why we don't return to classical educational models.
Matthew D. WalzFebruary 27, 2020
A street scene in Bartella. Photo by Rami Esa Saqat and Fadi Esa Saqat.
With the liberation of parts of Iraq from ISIS in 2017, Iraq’s Christians returned home to two unwelcome developments. Their homes had been burned, looted or destroyed by ISIS and Iran-backed groups who helped defeat ISIS—known as Popular Mobilization Forces—now controlled their towns.
Xavier BisitsFebruary 27, 2020
Pope Francis arrives to celebrate Ash Wednesday Mass at the Basilica of Santa Sabina in Rome Feb. 26, 2020. (CNS photo/Cristian Gennari, pool)
The pope’s spokesman said “his other meetings proceed regularly.” His words were intended to downplay the concern that his condition might be in any way serious.
Gerard O’ConnellFebruary 27, 2020