Speaking out against Using “Religious Liberty” to Discriminate

The Jewish community is saying loud and clear: it’s not religious to trample on human rights.

Since he came to Washington as a congressman, Mike Pompeo has long sought to narrow the scope of who is deserving of basic rights, weaponizing his evangelical faith to frame who should (and shouldn’t) be respected. Now as Secretary of State, he is perverting US global leadership on human rights to export his views globally. He created the Commission on Unalienable Rights – a commission filled with academics and theologians (and no practitioners of human rights) whose recommendations to the State Department dropped in July – to do just this. The recommendations confirmed all of our worst fears by unjustly interpreting American founding documents and prioritizing freedom of religion above all other rights.

This Commission used a distortion of Biblical faith as a cover to stop the U.S. from acknowledging the human rights of women, girls, LGBTQI+ and other vulnerable people as part of its foreign policy. AJWS, along with other human rights and civil society organizations, participated in every opportunity to learn about the Commission and give input through the public process since its inception in 2019. At every turn, the Commission has made its intentions clear: its goal is to stop the US from respecting any human right of a person who is LGBTQI+, or a woman, or a girl, or anyone around the world who may be marginalized.

The recommendations are couched in academic language that elevate “religious freedom” as one of the foremost human rights. But make no mistake: the consequences of this report will reach way beyond any ivory tower.

The AJWS community of rabbis and cantors knew that we couldn’t accept this twisting of our sacred texts to take away the basic dignity of others.

AJWS rabbis, cantors, and leaders submitted 22 public comments to the Commission on Unalienable Rights and are proud to be a part of a long-term, ongoing movement of faith leaders with conscience. You can see some of the powerful comments below, and here:

Read the full comments

Interested in learning more about how AJWS has been responding? Here are just some of our other resources on the Commission on Unalienable Rights including a press release and a letter from over 300 Jewish clergy.

Are you a rabbi or a cantor looking to be a part of a powerful movement for human rights?

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Here are just some of the powerful comments from the AJWS community registering our staunch opposition to the Commission:

“The Commission, with a stroke of its pen, has rejected the values espoused in our founding documents and the spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), choosing to view freedom of religion and property rights as the “foremost” of human rights to the detriment of all other human rights. This conclusion is profoundly damaging to long-established and internationally recognized human rights.” – Robert Bank, President and CEO of American Jewish World Service
“I believe that one of religion’s most important functions is to help people live together with more respect for one another’s differences, more tenderness, more understanding. The use of “religious freedom” in your report as a tool to diminish, not expand, support for human dignity, is to me a desecration.” – Cantor Vera Broekhuysen, Haverhill, MA
“The United States should lead from a place where all human rights are universal, and should not be preferencing some individuals over others. As a faith leader, I cannot allow the State Department to cloak intolerance and hate in religion…. As a people, we are strongest when we look out for the most vulnerable. These recommendations do the opposite, and in fact weaken protections that are desperately needed.” – Rabbi James Greene, Stafford, CT
“My congregation has a strong LGBTQI+ population. This is our family. We are all made in God’s image. It is not that some are made in God’s image more than others; that’s not how the Bible works. Someone else’s so-called “religious freedom” shouldn’t affect whether or not they can see a doctor or how they are treated in society, but the Commission’s recommendations put us on such a path.” – Rabbi Joseph Meszler, Sharon, MA
“Having worked as a rabbi for over thirty years, I have always understood the most basic religious imperative is to care for the stranger, the needy, the orphan, and the widow. This commission seeks to deny rights to anyone who is a "stranger," because they are LGBTQ, because they are women, or because they are poor.” – Rabbi Barbara Penzner, West Roxbury, MA
“Religious liberty…from a Biblical point of view, is the freedom to accept responsibility for the wellbeing of our fellow creatures.”  – Rabbi James Ponet, New Haven, CT
“Freedom of religion and conscience should not be used as a way to infringe upon the rights of others. I encourage the State Department to reject these recommendations and uphold international human rights and the rights of the most vulnerable.” – Rabbi Suzanne Singer, Riverside, CA

Hannah Weilbacher is the Program Officer for Jewish Advocacy and Engagement at AJWS.