Tony Perkins, president of the anti-LGBTQ Religious Right organization Family Research Council, was invited to speak at an event hosted by the State Department this week, where he has been rubbing elbows with some of the Trump administration’s top brass, who have been dropping by his radio studio for exclusive interviews on his show, Washington Watch.
The State Department is hosting a three-day Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in Washington, where a bipartisan lineup of high-ranking officials is discussing threats to religious liberty across the world. Perkins spoke at the event yesterday, and broadcast his weekday radio program from the State Department.
In addition to his role at Family Research Council, Perkins chairs the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, to which he was appointed on the recommendation of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell despite the fact that Perkins’ group was identified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center for its attacks against the LGBTQ community and brings with it a well-documented track record of anti-Muslim rhetoric.
On Monday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was a guest on Perkins’ show, there to hype the State Department’s event to Perkins’ Religious Right audience. The following day, Mark Green, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), joined Perkins on his radio show to talk about the importance of USAID pairing with religious groups to fulfill their missions abroad.
“For us at USAID, around the world, we are far more effective when we partner with the community of faith,” Green said. “The community of faith, faith-based organizations, help us to reach corners that we could not reach in this world through the government.”
Perkins agreed, praising the Trump administration for its work with religious groups, adding, “Together we can do so much more than if we try to do it alone.” At the end of the interview, Green told Perkins, who has a troubled history regarding racism: “I’m honored to be with you.”
That affirming message is in stark contrast to the elements of Perkins’ public record that raised concerns about his appointment to the USCIRF. As Right Wing Watch’s Peter Montgomery noted after Perkins’ election to USCIRF chair in June:
As recently as 2015, Perkins claimed that Islam “is incompatible with the Constitution.” That same year, he defended calls to restrict the immigration of Muslims by declaring that “only 16 percent of Islam is a religion.” The year before, he suggested that Christians who support legal equality for LGBTQ people don’t have the same legal protections as more conservative Christians, because a “true religious freedom” has to be “based on orthodox religious viewpoints.”
It’s also worth noting that the Family Research Council is one of the Religious Right groups that have eagerly worked with the most religiously oppressive regimes—those classified by the USCIRF as among the worst for religious liberty—in order to resist international recognition for the rights of LGBTQ people and to defend governments’ right to enforce “traditional” religious views on gender, sexuality, and family.
Scholars have argued that religious intolerance at home undermines the United States’ ability to advocate for human rights overseas.