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State Dept. disbands Trump-era commission that heightened importance of religious freedom

By Emily Wood, Christian Post Reporter FOLLOW| Monday, April 05, 2021FacebookTwitterEmail Print MenuComment27

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken testifies before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs on the Biden administration’s priorities for U.S. foreign policy on Capitol Hill on March 10, 2021, in Washington, D.C. | Ken Cedeno-Pool/Getty Images

Secretary of State Antony Blinken has formally dismissed the controversial Trump-era Commission on Unalienable Rights, which sought to elevate the promotion of religious freedom worldwide. Blinken, who vowed to promote LGBT rights worldwide during his confirmation hearings, only briefly alluded to religious persecution in a press conference unveiling the 45th State Department country reports on human rights practices last Tuesday. 

The annual human rights reports comprehensively cover internationally recognized individual, civil, political and worker rights outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international agreements in nearly 200 countries and territories.

In his remarks during the press conference, Blinken referred indirectly to former Secretary Mike Pompeo’s Commission on Unalienable Rights and dismissed the Trump-era commission, which was a panel of experts formed in 2019 who argued in a report last July that religious freedom and the right to property were more important human rights. 

Pompeo praised the report as one that “reorients us back to the foundational unalienable rights that we are bound to protect.”

“There is no hierarchy that makes some rights more important than others,” Blinken said. “Past unbalanced statements that suggest such a hierarchy, including those offered by a recently disbanded State Department advisory committee, do not represent a guiding document for this administration.”

At the time, pro-abortion and pro-LGBT groups derided the commission as trying to devalue “women’s rights” and LGBT rights. Pompeo argued at the time that the commission was formed as “International institutions designed and built to protect human rights have drifted from their original mission.”

Travis Weber, vice president for policy and government affairs and director of the Center for Religious Liberty at the Christian conservative activist organization Family Research Council, told The Christian Post that the repudiation of the Commission on Unalienable Rights is “an unfortunate development.” Weber argues that it diminishes religious freedom.

“This signifies the downgrading of the role of religious freedom in foreign policy and frankly, domestically as well because the commission had elevated the role of religious freedom and articulated its role as an important human right,” Weber said. A Message from

“So, that’s a negative development in our view that the Biden administration is seeking to put all international human rights on the same level. Certain human rights are more important than others and religious freedom is one of them.”

The commission created in July 2019 sought to define human rights since the definition had “drifted” through the years to accommodate abortion and LGBT rights. Despite backlash from LGBT advocates, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom praised the commission.

In his press conference, Blinken said all human rights are “co-equal.”

“At my confirmation hearing, I promised that the Biden-Harris administration would repudiate those unbalanced views [of the previous administration],” he said. “We do so decisively today.”

Weber also pointed out how Blinken’s remarks failed to highlight religious persecution worldwide despite the serious issues.

“Christian girls in Pakistan [are] being forced to convert in forced marriages. The Uyghur community in China is certainly being persecuted. I am glad he mentioned that, but there’s also persecution of Christians in China, … and Christians and any others in North Korea,” Weber stressed. 

“The situation of many Muslim-majority countries around the world, including Iran, is very dire. Christians are being slaughtered in Nigeria almost weekly, it seems, and there is no mention of that. So, when we look at the horrific atrocities and human rights violations going on around the world, religious persecution is among them, and it’s totally disappointing that he’s not highlighting that [in his remarks].”

Weber said these are human rights violations that deserve President Biden’s attention. He hopes the administration “reverses its course.”

“By elevating other human rights on par with religious freedom, you’re diminishing the importance of religious persecution and sending the signal that it’s not that important when people are being slaughtered around the world because of their faith,” Weber said. “This is unfortunate because it is important, and it does deserve more attention than a lot of other concerns and rights when you look at the international sphere.”  

Matias Perttula, director of advocacy for International Christian Concern, a religious persecution advocacy organization based in the U.S., also expressed concern.

“We at ICC welcome the progress that the State Department has made on promoting religious freedom and human rights around the world,” Perttula said in a statement. “However, we remain concerned whether the Biden administration is still committed to putting religious freedom as a central principle in the United States’ foreign policy priorities. We look forward to working with the State Department in ensuring that this vital right is protected for all.”

Blinken did call out human rights violations in China through the “genocide” of Uyghur Muslims and ethnic and religious minority groups in the Xinjiang province. He also condemned the attack or imprisonment of opposition politicians, anti-corruption activists or independent journalists in places like Russia, Uganda and Venezuela.

His remarks also called out violence against protestors in Belarus, abuses afflicted in Yemen, atrocities committed in Ethiopia, the executions and tortures committed by the Syrian regime and widespread violations by Burma’s security forces, among human rights violations in other nations.

Blinken pointed out how some autocratic governments have used COVID-19 to further repress human rights, saying this disproportionately impacts racial and ethnic minorities, those with disabilities or LGBT individuals. Blinken also highlighted the heightened gender-based violence toward women and girls around the world due to lockdowns.

Blinken announced plans to add reproductive health back into the report after the Trump administration removed it. The Biden administration is taking steps to “promote women’s health … because women’s rights — including sexual and reproductive rights — are human rights,” he stated.

Weber said Blinken’s remarks signaled how the administration would advocate for expanded abortion access around the globe.

“The other development that stood out in [Secretary Blinken’s] announcements was the elevation of reproductive rights, which we know is code for abortion expansion,” Weber said. “We expect the Biden administration to push abortion in international policy, and I think he clearly signaled that in his press conference.”

Blinken also noted “profound inequities, including systemic racism” and said, “we have work to do at home.”

The administration will work with its allies and institutions like the United Nations Human Rights Council and Congress to demonstrate a commitment to promote human rights around the globe.

Blinken promised the administration would “redouble” its efforts to support journalists, human rights defenders, anti-corruption activists, labor union organizers and other advocates who “put everything on the line to defend human rights.”

Newly confirmed secretary of state vows to promote LGBT agenda

Reported By Ryan Foley, Christian Post Reporter 

Secretary of State Antony Blinken is sworn in as the 71st U.S. Secretary of State by Acting Under Secretary of State for Management Carol Z. Perez at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on January 26, 2021. U.S. State Department/Ron Przysucha

The newly confirmed U.S. secretary of state has vowed to support the LGBT agenda by flying pride flags at United States embassies and resurrecting the “special envoy for the human rights of LGBTI persons.”

Antony Blinken, who was confirmed 78-22 by the United States Senate Tuesday, shared his thoughts about LGBT issues during his Senate confirmation hearing last week, which took place before President Joe Biden took office. As he questioned Blinken, Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said, “You and President-elect Biden have indicated that you’re going to support, appoint a new special envoy for human rights on LGBTI people, a position that I’ve been pushing to make permanent through the International Human Rights Defense Act.” As a presidential candidate, Biden vowed to make LGBT activism a centerpiece of his foreign policy. 

“After four years of Trump administration efforts to specifically marginalize, minimize, do damage to the rights of the LGBTI people, I think it’s going to be vital to appoint a seasoned expert on this issues. Are you going to move forward towards a speedy appointment towards an LGBTI envoy and would you consider raising it to an ambassadorial level?” Markey asked.

Blinken answered in the affirmative: “This is a matter, I think, of some real urgency, we’ve seen violence directed against LGBTQI people around the world increase. We’ve seen, I believe, the highest number of murders of transgender people, particularly women of color, that we’ve seen ever and so I think the United States playing the role that it should be playing in standing up for and defending the rights of LGBTQI people is something the Department is going to take on and take on immediately.”

Markey also asked Blinken if he would “repudiate the findings of the report of the Commission on Unalienable Rights and reaffirm the United States’ acceptance and adherence to the human rights laid out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights” and whether he would “ensure that ambassadors are able to fly the pride … flag at our embassies around the world.”

“Yes to both,” Blinken replied.

The Commission on Unalienable Rights was created by the State Department under then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in July 2019. In a press conference announcing the State Department Commission, the secretary of state argued that “international institutions designed and built to protect human rights have drifted from their original mission.” According to Pompeo, “As human rights claims have proliferated, some claims have come into tension with one another, provoking questions about which rights are entitled to gain respect.”

Democrats and progressive advocacy groups quickly criticized the move to create the commission, warning that it constituted an attempt to remove LGBT rights and abortion from the consensus definition of human rights. During the Trump administration, the United States signed the Geneva Consensus Declaration, which declared that “there is no international right to abortion.”

During the Trump administration, U.S. embassies were told not to fly the pride flag, which consists of the rainbow colors and is designed to show support for LGBT rights. Then-Vice President Mike Pence defended the State Department’s declaration that “on the flagpole of our American embassies that one flag should fly and that’s the American flag,” saying “I support that.” 

As Markey explained, the special envoy for the human rights of LGBTI persons was “left vacant in the Trump years.” The position was created during the latter part of the Obama administration. The first special envoy for the human rights of LGBTI persons was Randy Berry, who served in the position from 2015 to 2017 before former President Donald Trump appointed him to the position of United States Ambassador to Nepal.

While Markey contended that “the Trump administration rolled back much of the United States’ previous efforts to support and promote LGBTI rights around the world,” the previous administration pushed 69 countries to decriminalize homosexuality and same-sex relationships.

Blinken is the fourth member of Biden’s cabinet that has been confirmed by the Senate. The others are Director of Intelligence Avril Haines, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen.

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