WASHINGTON — A draft report from an advisory body to the U.S. State Department on human rights says that religious freedom is “foremost” among human rights.
“Foremost among the unalienable rights that government is established to secure, from the founders’ point of view, are property rights and religious liberty,” stated the draft report of the Commission on Unalienable Rights, released on July 16.
“A political society that destroys the possibility of either loses its legitimacy.”
The commission was established last July by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who announced that Mary Ann Glendon, former U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, would lead it.
Pompeo explained the need for the commission on Thursday, noting that an increase in the number of recognized human rights presents “risks of collision” between rights claims, as well as “risks of trivializing core American values.” In his time at the State Department, he said, as cables from around the world came in he realized officials were discussing rights in ways that were “deeply inconsistent.”
Last year, Pompeo charged the commission with studying the nature and historical foundations of human rights, with the hope that it would be part of “one of the most profound reexaminations of the unalienable rights in the world since the 1948 Declaration.”
On Thursday, the commission released its report at an event in Philadelphia, with Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York offering the invocation.
God has “bestowed upon and ingrained into the very nature of his creatures certain inalienable rights enshrined by the founders,” Dolan said, noting that they are “rights flowing from the innate dignity of the person,” are “self-evident in reason and nature,” and are “celebrated” in Divine Revelation.
Dolan asked God’s blessing “upon this noble project” of the commission, “as we renew our sense of duty to share our country’s wisdom on rights inherent to the very nature of the human person, never, ever to be trampled.”
Glendon, introducing the report, noted various threats to human rights around the world, especially China “aggressively promoting a very different concept” of rights that puts “national priorities” over freedoms of speech and assembly, and free elections. She also pointed out recent technological advances that pose threats to human rights, such as artificial intelligence, data collection, and surveillance techniques.
Pompeo explained his hope that the tradition of rights outlined in the report could be used to give other countries the “courage” to speak up when authoritarian regimes abuse their own citizens.
Some critics of the commission, following its creation, alleged that it would emphasize rights such as religious freedom at the expense of other rights such as women’s rights or LGBTQ advocacy.
On Thursday, one senior administration official said it was “disturbing” how many human rights experts claim that focusing on religious freedom means a “deviation” from U.S. foreign policy priorities, or draws attention away from other human rights.
Today, religious freedom advocates are criticized as theocrats, the official said, but “those who seek toleration” shouldn’t be confused with “religious fanaticism.”
“To the extent that the United States” is successful in promoting religious freedom, the other freedoms “will be vindicated” too, the official said.
In addition to Glendon, commission members included Notre Dame Law professor Paolo Carozza; Katrina Lantos Swett, former chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom; and philosopher Christopher Tollefsen.
On Thursday, Pompeo expounded upon the findings of the commission, noting that its emphasis on religious freedom underlines that “no society can retain its legitimate or a virtuous character without religious freedom.”
The current unrest, with mass anti-racism protests occurring around the country, is connected to America’s very ability to put its founding ideals into practice, he said.
The U.S. “fell far short” of its ideals with chattel slavery being the “gravest departure,” he said, along with expelling Native Americans from their land.
However, he noted, the founding principles gave a standard and framework to abolish slavery and codify equality in law.