The Biden State Department is distancing itself from a report commissioned by the Trump administration that championed religious liberty and argued for a “hierarchy” of human rights.
At issue is a 2020 report by the 11-member Commission on Unalienable Rights which was formed under the Trump State Department. The Commission noted in its report that the Founders considered religious liberty and property rights “foremost among the unalienable rights that government is established to secure.”
“A political society that destroys the possibility of either loses its legitimacy,” the report said.
Although the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) does “not explicitly establish a hierarchy of rights,” the report said, “U.S. foreign policy can and should, consistent with the UDHR, determine which rights most accord with national principles, priorities, and interests at any given time.”
Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the goal of the commission’s report was to guide future American foreign policy. It was chaired by Mary Ann Glendon, a Harvard professor of law and a former ambassador to the Vatican.
But the Biden administration is criticizing the report.
New Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken blasted the report in late March.
“Human rights are … co-equal – there is no hierarchy that makes some rights more important than others,” Blinken said. “Past unbalanced statements that suggest such a hierarchy, including those offered by a recently disbanded State Department advisory committee, do not represent a guiding document for this administration. At my confirmation hearing, I promised that the Biden-Harris administration would repudiate those unbalanced views. We do so decisively today.”
Blinken said the Biden administration would consider abortion rights and LGBT rights as equally important as religious liberty.
Supporters of the Commission on Unalienable Rights, though, say Blinken did not represent the report fairly.
Matthew Continetti, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, noted that the report explicitly said human rights “are not meant to be severed from or pitted against one another.”
Policymakers, Continetti noted in a National Review column, “draw distinctions between, say, which rights are worth going to war over and which are not.”
The commission’s report, Continetti said, is a “sober and judicious assessment of how the State Department might incorporate human rights into diplomacy.”
“And now it’s been tossed aside,” he wrote.
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Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.