The Family Research Council announced today that its president, Tony Perkins, has been invited to testify at a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing tomorrow on “protecting religious freedom abroad.”
The inclusion of Perkins threatens to turn a hearing about a critically important issue into a political sideshow. Perkins has consistently used the persecution of Christians abroad as a political bludgeon at home, claiming that LGBT rights in the U.S. are fueling religious persecution worldwide and falsely asserting that President Obama has done nothing to stop the oppression of Christians because he secretly sympathizes with Islamic radicals.
And, even as he accuses the Obama administration of ignoring the plight of Christians, Perkins has attacked international human rights efforts aimed at combating violence against and government oppression of LGBT people.
Perkins routinely trots out the claim that conservative Christians are being persecuted in America to blame the Obama administration and the LGBT rights movement for very real anti-Christian persecution throughout the world. In an interview with Rick Santorum in November, Perkins insisted that there is a “correlation” between the supposed persecution of Christians in America and violent attacks on Christians and churches in the Middle East and elsewhere. “They feel like if it’s not a priority for us to have religious freedom here at home, then certainly it’s not going to be a priority for us to speak out for the persecuted peoples abroad,” he said.
Claiming that nondiscrimination laws protecting LGBT people are in fact discriminatory against Christians, Perkins said in November that combating such laws “will give hope to far-away places around the world” where Christians are being oppressed by tyrannical governments.
He similarly blamed advances in LGBT rights in the U.S. for encouraging religious persecution in Iran and North Korea, citing the case of an Atlanta fire chief who lost his job after distributing an anti-gay book to claim that “tyrants abroad see an administration that is not only not interested in protecting religious freedom but actually persecuting.” At another point, he warned of “deadly consequences” for Christians abroad if marriage equality succeeds in the United States.
Last year, Perkins linked the case of Meriam Ibrahim, a Sudanese woman who was imprisoned for converting to Christianity, to an effort to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, saying “we keep our freedom of religion by working to keep our freedom of speech, and political speech is actually what’s under attack here.”
Perkins frequently brushes aside the evidence he is presented with to suggest that President Obama is ignoring the plight of Christians throughout the world. Throughout Ibrahim’s plight, Perkins insisted that the Obama administration had “done nothing” for her…even after sources including Fox News and a conservative Republican congressman told him that the administration had been working diligently to set her free. Even after diplomatic pressure led to Ibrahim’s release and she was granted asylum in the United States, Perkins claimed in a fundraising letter that there was “no evidence that the Obama State Department did anything to intervene.”
Similarly, when the administration secured the release of Kenneth Bae, a Christian pastor held in a North Korean prison camp, Perkins used the opportunity to falsely claim that the administration was doing nothing to help another Christian political prisoner, Saeed Abedini, in Iran.
Perkins hasn’t just exploited the cases of persecuted Christians to attack Obama — he has also used them in an effort to lend legitimacy to his fight against LGBT rights in the United States.
He frequently portrays protecting LGBT people from violence and protecting Christians from religious persecution as an either-or choice…and, unsurprisingly, claims that Obama has chosen the former. In a direct mail piece in August, for instance, Perkins vowed to fight the administration’s “devotion to the cause of sexual immorality and their simultaneous indifference toward Christians suffering persecution for their faith.”
Perkins may portray the issues as mutually exclusive because he vehemently opposes any U.S. efforts to protect LGBT people from violence and persecution from their governments. Back in 2010, he defended a Uganda bill that would have imposed life imprisonment for consensual sex with someone of the same sex and the death penalty for so-called “aggravated homosexuality,” saying it was an effort to “uphold moral conduct.” When then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton launched an initiative to promote LGBT rights throughout the world, he accused her of promoting a “radical social agenda” including “special rights for homosexuals and homosexuality”… while claiming that she had remained “silent” on anti-Christian persecution.
Religious persecution around the world is certainly a worthy topic for the Senate to address. But including Tony Perkins in such a hearing is not the way for a committee to convey that it is taking this issue seriously.