Donald Trump's administration is pushing its version of religious freedom -- as freedom to discriminate against those who offend one's religious views -- not only in the U.S. but overseas.
At a State Department event on international religious freedom last week, Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, said foreign policy that seeks to discourage homophobia amounts to religious persecution, ThinkProgress reports.
"Our U.S. taxpayer dollars are used to discourage Christian values in other democratic countries," he said at the Ministerial on International Religious Freedom, held in Washington, D.C. "It was stunning to me that my government under a previous administration would go to folks in sub-Saharan Africa and say, 'We know that you have a law against abortion, but if you enforce that law, you're not going to get any of our money. We know you have a law against gay marriage, but if you enforce that law, we're not going to give you any money.' That is a different type of religious persecution that I never expected to see."
However, Mulvaney's statement "is either intentionally deceptive or unintentionally ignorant," ThinkProgress points out. President Barack Obama's administration threatened to withhold aid from countries with homophobic laws, but these were not simply marriage bans -- they were laws providing for incarceration or for being gay. One proposed in Uganda would have subjected gay people to the death penalty in certain cases; when the legislation passed, the maximum penalty was changed to life imprisonment, and the law was overturned on a technicality by a Ugandan court. Still, LGBT Ugandans face oppression and violence.
"The [Obama administration's] approach was always about protecting LGBTQ people from persecution under the law, not 'religious persecution,' as Mulvaney framed it," ThinkProgress reports.
And the Trump administration seems intent on ignoring anti-LGBT persecution abroad. The U.S. representative to the United Nations Human Rights Council voted against a resolution condemning the use of the death penalty for homosexuality, contending that the resolution went too far in calling for the abolition of the death penalty for any crime. The U.S. has subsequently withdrawn from the Human Rights Council.
Policies making it more difficult for a variety of people fleeing persecution to receive asylum in the U.S. stand to endanger LGBT people along with others. Trump has also been notably silent on the campaign against gay and bisexual men in the Russian republic of Chechnya, where many have been sent to concentration camps and several have reportedly been murdered -- and he remains cozy with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
There were several anti-LGBT activists at last week's event, including Family Research Council president Tony Perkins and representatives of the Alliance Defending Freedom, the Washington Blade reports.
The "presence of well-known anti-LGBTI and anti-choice groups at the ministerial illustrates the cynical nature of the Trump administration's promotion of 'religious liberty,'" Harry Samuels, a conference attendee and policy adviser for the American Jewish World Service, which funds LGBT rights efforts around the world, said in a statement to the Blade.
"The administration intentionally conflates honorable efforts to protect religious minorities from violence with using 'religious conscience' to legitimize discrimination against LGBTI people and deny sexual and reproductive health services to women and girls around the world," he added.