Is the State Department using ‘God-given rights’ to trample human rights? FFRF wants to know.

Mike Pence

The State Department is setting up a religiously inclined commission, and the Freedom From Religion Foundation is determined to figure out what it’s all about.

The state/church watchdog is seeking records for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s new “Commission on Unalienable Rights.” FFRF is concerned that this group will redefine human rights through the conservative Christian nationalism that Pompeo promotes.

Although the news of the commission broke publicly just a few days ago, FFRF got wind of it last month, submitting its Freedom of Information Act request on June 5. It’s seeking out records of the commission's charter describing the “size, composition, members, duration, and/or frequency of meetings of the commission,” as well as its correspondence and meeting recordings.

“The distinctive mark of Western civilization is the belief in the inherent worth of human beings, with the attendant respect for God-authored rights and liberties,” Pompeo said in May. The conflation of “God-given rights” and “human rights” seems to be a hallmark of this commission. Speaking to the National Catholic Register, one State Department official said, “We believe by our nature as human beings that we enjoy unalienable rights and our founders believed in God,” saying the Founders “believed that God gave us these unalienable rights that could not be taken away by man.”

“This language is worrisome. The Founders, Thomas Jefferson in particular, focused on human rights, not Pompeo’s ‘God-given rights.’ It’s a common misunderstanding that can be very problematic,” explains FFRF’s Director of Strategic Response Andrew L. Seidel.

“God-given rights depend on geography. Do you live in Indiana, India or Iran? They depend on those who claim to know God’s will. Do your leaders think Muhammad’s, Martin Luther’s or Martin Luther King Jr.’s interpretation of God’s will is correct?” as Seidel has written elsewhere.

Most alarmingly, “God-given” rights can be taken away by those claiming to speak for God. And Mike Pompeo, who is running this show, has a bad history of mixing his theology with his public office, something FFRF warned the country about when he was nominated to head the State Department. “To worship our Lord and celebrate our nation at the same place is not only our right, it is our duty,” the then-Kansas congressman began a speech to a Wichita congregation in 2015 that encapsulates his worldview. He bemoaned the supposed official campaign to “rip faith from our schools.” Pompeo also exposed his Christian fundamentalism in stating, “America had worshipped other gods and called it multiculturalism.” Pompeo concluded by describing politics as “a never-ending struggle . . . until the rapture.”

When a rapture-hungry, end-times Christian starts talking about “God-given rights,” watch out. It usually means someone’s rights are about to be trampled: a freethinker’s right to be a nonconformist, a woman’s right to reproductive choice, an LGBTQ’s right to marry their partner or a black American’s right to civil liberty.

“Our government needs to buttress human rights, not religious rites — much less religious wrongs,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. Gaylor will be monitoring in person this week’s U.S. Department of State Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in Washington, D.C., which has as its core focus the persecution of Christians around the world.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation will be watching the “Commission on Unalienable Rights” closely and challenging the State Department should it delve into theological territory.

Photo via Shutterstock by Lev Radi

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

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