U.S. Reps. Jared Huffman and Jamie Raskin, founders of the Congressional Freethought Caucus, issued the following statement on July 17 after the State Department’s Commission on Unalienable Rights unveiled its review of American human rights policy:
“We founded the Congressional Freethought Caucus to promote public policy based on reason, science and moral values, to protect the secular character of our government and to champion the value of freedom of thought and conscience worldwide. The State Department’s meandering new report only confuses these founding American principles and continues this administration’s retreat from clear and coherent world leadership for human rights.
“As we feared, this report does not enshrine essential human rights, but rather confuses the whole field by downgrading political and civil rights and promoting a muddled and airily abstract interpretation of religious freedom. While invoking ‘Protestant Christianity’ first as a founding ethos for America, Secretary Mike Pompeo’s report cautions against ‘new claims of human rights,’ and warns that ‘the tendency to fight political battles with the vocabulary of human rights risks stifling the kind of robust discussion on which a vibrant democracy depends.’ We fear that such slippery, equivocating language is intended to devalue LGBTQ+ rights and women’s reproductive rights and relegate them to mere ‘claims.’ While often pretending to some kind of abstract universal ambition for the rights of people, the authors cannot resist throwing rhetorical bones to the Religious Right and its war on personal freedom in America.
“Moreover, this report may lend credence to a foreign policy that disregards our international human rights framework in favor of a narrower interpretation of fundamental property and majority religious rights, one that allows for increased discrimination against political dissidents, women, and minority groups. The Congressional Freethought Caucus will continue to closely watch the impact of Secretary Pompeo’s curious commission and to hold this administration responsible for repeatedly walking away from mainstream American values.
“In short, at a moment when authoritarianism, racism and anti-scientific magical thinking are on the march, there is not much in here to make the dictators, despots, kleptocrats, racists, anti-Semites and strongmen of the world quiver in any way. On the other hand, the authors do finally get around to criticizing human rights violations in Putin’s autocratic Russia, a detail buried deep in the report — perhaps with the hope that Donald Trump might not notice it. We are happy to bring it to his attention and to suggest that a first order of business should be to aggressively defend the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia and the Uighurs in China, two minority groups ruthlessly persecuted by these authoritarian governments that Donald Trump has worked hard to befriend.”