Leading Jewish Global Human Rights Group Mobilizes More Than 300 Jewish Clergy Members to Urge U.S. State Department to Disband Commission on Unalienable Rights

American Jewish World Service (AJWS) says human rights must be protected for vulnerable people, including women, girls, and LGBTQI people

Today, 302 Jewish clergy from across 35 states and the District of Columbia joined to send a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expressing opposition to the Commission on Unalienable Rights. Rori Kramer, Director of U.S. Advocacy for American Jewish World Service (AJWS), the leading global Jewish human rights organization, issued the following statement:

“American Jewish World Service has mobilized more than 300 rabbis and cantors to send this message to Secretary Pompeo: We will not let faith be used as a tool to undermine human rights.

In this moment of public health crisis, it’s clear that the most vulnerable people in our global community will be the first impacted. As a stark example of how these communities are mistreated by this Administration, Secretary Pompeo created the misguided Commission on Unalienable Rights to explore the “foundational” principles of human rights and has sought to redefine them in U.S. foreign policy, with a clear intent to block access to the rights of the most marginalized people, if not strip them away entirely.

We have watched as this commission has used “religious freedom” as a cudgel to demean the rights of the most vulnerable people, including women, girls, and LGBTQI people. We now see our fears realized as this Commission potentially poses a direct threat to the rights of the most vulnerable communities around the world. The clear mishandling of the COVID-19 crisis clearly illustrates that, should the Commission carry out its mandate, people whose human rights are already threatened will be in that much more danger.

As Jews, we recognize the inherent dignity of all people and stand in solidarity with women, girls, the LGBTQI community, and other vulnerable people in their fight for human rights. We will not remain silent as the Trump administration seeks to destroy human rights protections, nor will we let faith be used as a tool to promote hate and discrimination. Against the backdrop of the global health crisis we are facing as a nation and a world, the Jewish community states clearly our support for a rights-based approach.”

The text of the letter delivered to the Secretary of State on behalf of the 302 Jewish clergy leaders from across 35 states and the District of Columbia is below. AJWS also submitted an organizational comment on the Commission:

The Honorable Michael R. Pompeo
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, D.C. 20250

March 26, 2020

Dear Mr. Secretary,

As 302 rabbis and cantors from across 35 states and the District of Columbia representing all major Jewish denominations, we write today to express our deep concerns about the State Department’s Commission on Unalienable Rights. Touted by you as a body that will explore the principles and foundations of human rights in U.S. foreign policy, the Commission’s work has become a thinly veiled effort to apply dangerous religious ideology to curtail the human rights of people across the globe. As Jews, our tradition teaches us that all human beings are created b’tzelem Elohim, in the divine image. As a result, we stand in opposition to any attempt to deny rights to the most vulnerable people, which, as is now apparent, is the Commission’s true aim.

As clergy, we denounce efforts to propose that there is a crisis or a “proliferation” of human rights today. To be clear, this is not the case. Rather, human rights movements around the world – including those for women, girls, and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex (LGBTQI) community – benefit all people. We stand in support of their resounding calls for justice. We know from our own history that vulnerable people face stigma, violence, and discrimination simply because of their very identities. Our scriptures teach that we must love our neighbors as we love ourselves – that we must stand up to injustice everywhere (Leviticus 19:18, Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 54b). The divine is served only when all people have the opportunity to exercise their rights and live a life of dignity.

Unfortunately, the public views and records of individual Commissioners, and the open meetings of the Commission itself, reject this divine mandate by asserting that there is a hierarchy of rights, with purported freedom of religion and conscience at the top. As religious leaders, we firmly oppose this distinction. We object when supposed religious values are used to promote hate and discrimination against those in vulnerable communities, including denying access to reproductive rights and criminalizing people because of who they are or whom they love.

As 302 Jewish leaders from across this nation, we call on you, Mr. Secretary, to immediately disband the Commission on Unalienable Rights. We urge the State Department to uphold and promote the dignity of vulnerable people around the world. We further demand that the Department cease undermining the ability of women, girls, and LGBTQI people to access their sexual and reproductive health and rights, including abortion services, through this Commission or any other avenue.

As faith leaders, we denounce the Commission’s efforts to allow hate and discrimination to masquerade as moral and religious beliefs. Rather, it is our moral obligation to uphold human rights and speak out against injustice and oppression.


The undersigned 302 Rabbis and Cantors

Click here for the full list of Jewish clergy leaders.

About the human rights work of American Jewish World Service (AJWS)  

AJWS funds LGBTQI+ human rights groups in 19 countries in Latin America, Asia and Africa, and mobilizes the American Jewish community to advocate for U.S. policies that support human rights abroad. With Jewish values and a global reach, AJWS is making a difference in millions of lives and bringing a more just and equitable world closer for all.


For More Information

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