The Religious Freedom Institute’s (RFI) North America Action Team has joined a coalition led by the Heritage Foundation in submitting a letter to President Trump expressing concern over a February 27, 2020 United Nations (UN) report. The UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB), Dr. Ahmed Shaheed, issued a report that purports to examine the relationship between “gender-based violence and discrimination in the name of religion or belief.” What the report instead does is to disparage those who peacefully hold certain religious beliefs regarding the sanctity of human life and the nature of the human person.
The report would have been stronger had it trained its focus specifically on the very serious and real forms of religious persecution women face in many countries, especially those women from religious minorities. The report also singles out certain democracies such as the United States for securing conscientious protections for medical professionals who object to abortion or artificial contraception, obliquely equating such reasonable accommodations of religious difference with religious persecution. Despite his clear mandate to defend the freedom to manifest religious beliefs publicly and privately in accordance with Article 18 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Dr. Shaheed picks favorites in his report and fails to defend those whose peacefully hold beliefs that contradict his own views. As the coalition’s letter states:
For too long the UN special mechanisms have treated their own policy goals as if they are human rights and even superior to fundamental rights. By doing so, the UN Special Rapporteur demonstrates contempt for the process through which diplomats carefully negotiate treaty texts on behalf of citizens from the countries that they represent. Though this report was written on behalf of women, it shows profound disrespect for the religious freedom of women around the globe whose beliefs do not align with the Special Rapporteur’s viewpoints.
Fifteen leading religious freedom advocates signed and sent the letter to President Trump on April 27. The Rev. Dr. Andrew Bennett, Director of RFI’s North America Action Team was one of the 15 signatories. He had previously highlighted the problems with the Special Rapporteur’s report in an April 8 RealClearReligion op-ed. Through regular consultations with the other coalition members, RFI remains engaged with these issues in the hope that the Administration will respond to the recommendations in the letter. These recommendations include U.S. Ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft sending a letter to UN Secretary-General António Guterres critiquing this recent report, and the UN’s politicization of human rights more broadly. The coalition letter also calls for the issuance of State Department guidance to foreign service officers on the proper understanding of religious freedom and related issues.
Read the coalition letter to President Trump.