US Departments of State and Justice Prioritize “Religious Liberty” while Touting Superiority of Christian Morality

US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo attendS a Vatican - US Symposium on Faith-Based Organizations (FBOs), on October 2, 2019 at the Old Synod Hall in the Vatican. The symposium "˜Pathways to Achieving Human Dignity : Partnering with Faith-Based Organizations' is co-hosted by the Holy Sees Secretariat of State and the US Embassy to the Holy See. Photo by Abaca/Sipa USA(Sipa via AP Images)

US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo attendS a Vatican – US Symposium on Faith-Based Organizations (FBOs), on October 2, 2019 at the Old Synod Hall in the Vatican. The symposium “˜Pathways to Achieving Human Dignity : Partnering with Faith-Based Organizations’ is co-hosted by the Holy Sees Secretariat of State and the US Embassy to the Holy See. Photo by Abaca/Sipa USA(Sipa via AP Images)

In July, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo intro­duced the State Depart­ment’s new Commission on Unalienable Rights to review the definition of human rights and its role in foreign policy decisions. Pompeo stated that the concept of human rights has been “hijacked” and that “international institutions designed and built to protect human rights have drifted from their original mission” because of this. All members of the Commission are anti­abortion, including its chair, Mary Ann Glendon, former ambassador to the Vatican, who is a vocal opponent of contraception and abortion. In response, dozens of lawmakers issued a letter to Pompeo, expressing concerns that the Commis­sion would “push a narrow, discriminatory agenda that decides whose rights are worth protecting and whose rights the administration will ignore.” Catholics for Choice joined with hundreds of organizations, scholars, faith leaders and advocates in signing a letter asking that the Commission be disbanded and urging Pompeo “to use the resources of your office to take action on the great many grave human rights issues facing the world today, including those—like the treatment of asylum seekers and administration rhetoric and policy supportive of some of the world’s leading human rights violators—you have the power to improve directly.” Pompeo recently attended a conference at the Vatican on religious freedom, at which he described members of the Trump administration as “the strongest advocates of religious freedom in the history of our country.” The State Department later drew fire for promoting on its official website the speech the secretary deliv­ered under the title “Being a Christian Leader.”

Meanwhile, Attorney General William Barr alarmed observers with an October speech at the University of Notre Dame, where he delivered remarks on the government’s “monstrous invasion of reli­gious liberty” in America while explicitly claiming superiority for Judeo-Christian traditions: “Judeo-Christian moral standards are the ultimate utilitarian rules for human conduct. They reflect the rules that are best for man … like God’s instruction manual for the best running of man and human society.” He blamed “militant secu­larists” for destroying America’s “traditional moral order.” He also criticized Catholic efforts to influence public policy related to alle­viating poverty while lauding Catholic efforts to influence public policy restricting women’s access to healthcare. The speech concerned many progressive Christians, who pointed out that Barr’s vision of Christi­anity in the public sphere appears solely focused on the imposition of narrow, conservative views on contraception, abortion and LGBT people while lacking compassion. Moreover, watchdogs were alarmed that, much like Pompeo’s State Department, Barr’s Justice Department high­lighted the religious speech on its official government website.

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