Tony Perkins, the virulently anti-LGBTQ president of the Family Research Council, has been elected chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
Perkins was elected Monday for the 2019-2020 term, the commission announced in a press release. “Chair Perkins is an effective leader and an experienced advocate for freedom of religion or belief,” the outgoing chair, Tenzin Dorjee, said in the release. Dorjee noted that Perkins has spoken out about the treatment of Iran’s religious minorities and that of Uighurs, a largely Muslim ethnic minority in China. Perkins was appointed to the commission by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell last year for a two-year tenure.
“I would like to thank my fellow commissioners for entrusting me with the responsibility of guiding this Commission,” Perkins added. “It is an honor to work with this diverse group of dedicated professionals on such an important issue. I look forward to continuing our efforts to promote the fundamental human right of religious freedom for all people.”
But for Perkins, religious freedom seems to mean primarily the freedom for conservative Christians to impose their beliefs on others. Although he is a close ally of Donald Trump, just this year he criticized the Trump administration’s campaign to decriminalize homosexuality abroad. “Let’s find common ground in calling for an end to all forms of physical violence against homosexuals — but refrain from imposing the values of the sexual revolution on the rest of the world,” he wrote in a February column responding to the move.
He has likened LGBTQ rights advocates to Nazis, speculating that they would haul Christians off in boxcars and place them in reeducation camps. When Trump was elected president and appointed Rex Tillerson (now departed) as secretary of State, Perkins proposed that Tillerson fire all the pro-LGBTQ and pro-choice State Department employees who had served under Hillary Clinton and John Kerry. (That did not happen.) He has advised the Republican Party on its national platform and helped strengthen the anti-LGBTQ language in the document, including opposition to marriage equality.
He has said the Supreme Court’s 2015 marriage equality ruling meant schools would teach “immoral sexuality”; decried the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” and said it led to Secret Service members soliciting sex workers (mostly of the opposite sex); denounced the 2003 high court ruling striking down antisodomy laws; and said that “true religious freedom” is “based on orthodox religious viewpoints,” not more liberal views that endorse LGBTQ equality. The Family Research Council is designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center because of the homophobic and transphobic propaganda it spreads.
In addition to being anti-LGBTQ and anti-abortion rights, he is generally anti-Muslim, despite his concern about the Uighurs. In 2015 he defended the concept of barring many Muslim immigrants from entering the U.S. “until a better, safer vetting protocol is in place,” as he wrote in an email to Family Research Council supporters. “What most people either don’t realize or willfully ignore is that only 16 percent of Islam is a religion — the rest is a combination of military, judicial, economic, and political system,” he continued. “Christianity, by comparison, isn’t a judicial or economic code — but a faith. So to suggest that we would be imposing some sort of religious test on Muslims is inaccurate.”
LGBTQ activists and others denounced the selection of Perkins as chair. “Tony Perkins has devoted his career to limiting the legal rights of LGBTQ people,” said a statement issued by David Stacy, director of government affairs for the Human Rights Campaign. “In his America, LGBTQ people would be forced to hide who they are or face criminal sanction, and their relationships would be outlawed and undermined. He should never have been appointed to serve on this commission, nor should he have been entrusted to lead it. Once again, the Trump-Pence administration has taken a nonpartisan commitment to religious freedom around the world and turned it into another weapon in their anti-LGBTQ crusade.”
At Right Wing Watch, Peter Montgomery wrote that it’s “worth noting that the Family Research Council is one of the Religious Right groups that have eagerly worked with the most religiously oppressive regimes — those classified by the USCIRF as among the worst for religious liberty — in order to resist international recognition for the rights of LGBTQ people and to defend governments’ right to enforce ‘traditional’ religious views on gender, sexuality, and family.”
Nick Fish, president of American Atheists, also released a statement, saying, “As the leader of a Christian supremacist group that weaponizes religion against the LGBTQ community and regularly attacks religious minorities as un-American, Tony Perkins is unqualified to serve as a commissioner or in any other capacity at the USCIRF, let alone to lead it. … Tony Perkins cares about two things: cementing Christian supremacy across the globe and protecting the ability of religious fundamentalists to weaponize their religion against atheists, LGBTQ people, women, and religious minorities. His views are dangerously out of step with the values expressed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the U.S. Constitution. He has no place on the USCIRF and his elevation to chair is an embarrassment to the United States.”