Dissolve new State Department commission, FFRF & many others urge

Mike Pence

A new State Department body should be disbanded, the Freedom From Religion Foundation and close to 200 other organizations are urging in a letter. Hundreds of former officials, academics and activists have also signed on to the letter originating with Human Rights First.

FFRF and all these groups and individuals are calling on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to dissolve the recently announced Commission on Unalienable Rights.

“We object to the commission’s stated purpose, which we find harmful to the global effort to protect the rights of all people and a waste of resources; the commission’s makeup, which lacks ideological diversity and appears to reflect a clear interest in limiting human rights, including the rights of women and LGBTQI individuals; and the process by which the commission came into being and is being administered, which has sidelined human rights experts in the State Department’s own Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor,” the letter states. “We urge you to immediately disband this body.”

The commission’s shortcomings start with its title itself, the letter points out.

“We view with great misgiving a body established by the U.S. government aimed expressly at circumscribing rights through an artificial sorting of those that are ‘unalienable’ and those to be now deemed ‘ad hoc,” says the letter. “These terms simply have no place in human rights discourse. It is a fundamental tenet of human rights that all rights are universal and equal.”

And the composition of the entity does little to inspire confidence.

“The commission clearly fails to achieve the legal requirement that a federal advisory committee ‘be fairly balanced in its membership in terms of the points of view represented and the functions to be performed,’” asserts the letter. “The commission’s chair and members are overwhelmingly clergy or scholars known for extreme positions opposing LGBTQI and reproductive rights, and some have taken public stances in support of indefensible human rights violations.”

FFRF and the other groups strongly advise that “taxpayer resources should simply not be wasted on this commission,” since “its findings will have no weight or ability to redefine human rights.”

The joint letter, released today, is already receiving coverage in major media outlets

FFRF has been ahead of the curve when it comes to the “Commission on Unalienable Rights,” getting wind of it early last month and immediately asking for records on the body, which FFRF awaits. The state/church watchdog has been concerned from the get-go that the group will redefine human rights through the Christian nationalism that the secretary of state promotes.

“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. This conflation of “God-given rights” and “human rights” seems to be a hallmark of the 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,” adding that the Founders “believed that God gave us these unalienable rights.”

FFRF’s Director of Strategic Response Andrew L. Seidel has explained, “This language is worrisome. The Founders, Thomas Jefferson in particular, focused on human rights, not Pompeo’s ‘God-given rights.’”

FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor adds a warning: “When government officials imagine they have a pipeline to a divinity or ‘know’ what ‘God’ wants, watch out!”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is more than happy to join in the call for the “Commission on Unalienable Rights” to be shut down.

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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