Family Research Council President Tony Perkins has been appointed to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) on the recommendation of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, according to an announcement in Monday’s Congressional Record.
Perkins’ appointment is deeply troubling given the long track record that Perkins and FRC have had in spreading anti-Muslim rhetoric in the United States. In 2015, Perkins said he agreed with Ben Carson that “Islam is not just a religion, Islam is an economic system, it is a judicial system, it is a comprehensive system which is incompatible with the Constitution.” In 2014, Perkins said of Muslim “moderates” that they “believe in the Muslim faith but they don’t practice it, they don’t really believe the Koran and practice it as it’s written,” while militants are “actually practicing their faith.”
Perkins is not alone. In 2012, FRC’s Executive Vice President Jerry Boykin said “We love the Muslim people, but we have to be very careful to understand that Islam, in a pure sense, in an authoritative sense, Islam is evil.” A year earlier, Boykin said Islam “should not be protected under the First Amendment.” Back when he was still a top official at the Pentagon, Boykin was criticized for making speeches that depicted the war on terrorism as a Christian struggle against Satan.
FRC even complained when President Barack Obama hosted an Iftar dinner at the White House and “praised Muslims in positions throughout his administration.”
A group of former diplomats recently warned that the rise in such religious bigotry undermines the ability of the U.S. to credibly and effectively advocate for the religious freedom of those who face religious repression and persecution in other countries.
In addition, as we’ve pointed out, FRC and its Religious Right allies warmly embrace the world’s most religiously repressive regimes while they work together to oppose international recognition for the rights of LGBTQ people and to enshrine “traditional” views of gender, marriage and family. In 2016, FRC’s Peter Sprigg was among the U.S. Religious Right figures who participated in an event at the United Nations celebrating the “Group of Friends of the Family,” which includes a lot of overlap with countries identified by USCIRF as the worst in the world for religious freedom. Among the countries singled out for “pro-family” praise at the event were Sudan, which the USCIRF said “represses and marginalizes its minority Christian community” and Saudi Arabia, which USCIRF calls “uniquely repressive” when it comes to religious freedom.
Religious Right groups have been huge cheerleaders for Vladimir Putin, whose regime has restricted religious freedom as well as the rights of LGBTQ people. In 2017, when the USCIRF classified Russia as a “country of particular concern,” Perkins took note, but essentially blamed Barack Obama for increasing religious repression, saying that “America’s hostility to religious liberty at home has led to incredible indifference abroad.” Added Perkins, “After eight years of Obama’s war on faith, it’s time for America to pick up the torch of liberty and find its voice on the crisis.”
Recently, FRC has been urging that international religious freedom in U.S. foreign policy be treated as a national security issue rather than simply a human rights issue. An April paper by Perkins’ colleague Travis Weber noted that “Russia and other autocratic regimes are flexing their muscles and cracking down on religious freedom.” Perkins made a similar call for a greater focus on religious liberty in foreign policy in 2016, which we said at the time was “jaw-droppingly hypocritical” given Perkins’ inconsistent approach to religious liberty. In addition to his remarks about Islam, Perkins has, for example, criticized the military for accommodating “fringe religions” and suggested that it is not the government’s role “to try to put all religions on the same plane.” He has also argued that Christians who support same-sex couples’ right to get married are not entitled to the same religious liberty protections as those with more “orthodox religious viewpoints.”
Perkins’ appointment appears to be yet another example of political payback to the Religious Right leaders and activists who make up a dominant part of the Republican Party’s political base and are President Trump’s strongest supporters. Perkins and other FRC spokespeople were outspoken cheerleaders for the confirmation of U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Perkins praised the appointment of former Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, another Religious Right favorite, as Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom. And Perkins is helping put together a political gathering in June at which Religious Right leaders will heap praise upon Trump and urge conservative Christians to vote for Republicans in this year’s midterm elections.
According to USCIRF’s website, the law that created the commission “mandates that three Commissioners are selected by the President, two by the leaders of the President’s party in Congress, and four by the congressional leaders of the party not in the White House. Commissioners are appointed for two year terms, and are eligible for reappointment.”