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Biden administration disbands religious freedom commission

In a move that has startled some human rights groups, the Biden administration is ending the Commission of Unalienable Rights.

Instituted by President Donald Trump, the commission had become a powerful voice around the world in advocating for the free expression of all religions in such countries as China, Iran and Myanmar. It had been lauded by both religious and secular groups for elevating the promotion of religious freedom and women’s rights around the globe.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who ended the commission’s work, vowed instead 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. 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 as important as human rights.

“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.”

The atheist group Freedom From Religion Foundation celebrated the news saying they had advised the Biden administration. “We’re delighted that our advice was followed by President Biden’s secretary of state, Anthony Blinken,” the group states on their website. “He has announced, in a statement accompanying the annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, that the commission has been disbanded.”

“To that breath of fresh air, even we atheists might say ‘Amen,’” stated FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “This commission was flawed from the start, conceived with the original sin of Christian nationalism. May its siblings soon follow it into obscurity.”

Gaylor’s statements about the commission focusing only on the Christian faith is unfounded, however. Trump used the commission to speak out on behalf of all religions and religious minorities. That included the Uighur people of Western China who are currently the target of a communist genocide campaign including concentration camps. The commission also spoke out on behalf of Muslim sects targeted by ISIS and focused on the Rohingya genocide at the hands of the Myanmar military.  The Rohingya are a Muslim minority in the country formerly known as Burma.

But it was not just atheists attacking the commission.

Pro-abortion and pro-LGBT groups had attempted to derided the Trump commission as devaluing women’s rights and LGBT rights. But religious rights activists around the world said women are most often the target of religious persecution and that countries that persecute minority religions also persecuted LGBT individuals. 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.” The Trump administration believed that all rights were elevated when religious rights were ensured.

Travis Weber, vice president for policy and government affairs and director of the Center for Religious Liberty at the Family Research Council, said repudiation of the commission is “an unfortunate development.” Weber argued 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.

Matias Perttula, director of advocacy for International Christian Concern, an anti-religious persecution advocacy organization, 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,” he said. “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.”

–Dwight Widaman | Metro Voice