Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, speaks at the Family Research Council's Values Voter Summit in Washington on Oct. 7, 2011.
Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/AP

Meet the new head of the US Commission on Int’l Religious Freedom

It’s been a couple of decades since Congress created the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, whose work is largely self-explanatory. Members of the panel, appointed by the president and lawmakers, are tasked with monitoring threats to religious liberty abroad and making policy recommendations in support of the oppressed.

As of this week, the commission has a new chairman. His name is Tony Perkins, who also serves as the head of the right-wing Family Research Council.

Perkins was originally chosen as a commission member last year – Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) tapped him for the post – but now he’s been promoted. As New York’s Sarah Jones explained, it’s a deeply discouraging development.

….Perkins isn’t much of a household name. But he has for years worked toward a definition of religious freedom that maximizes First Amendment rights for conservative Christians, while minimizing the rights of Muslims, nontheists, and members of other minority traditions.

At various points in his prolific career, Perkins has argued that there is “a disproportionate overlap” between homosexuality and pedophilia and that the legalization of same-sex marriage will lead inexorably to the persecution of conservative Christians…. Same-sex relationships remain illegal in much of the world, and LGBT people can face violence and death, meted out either by vigilantes or courts. They won’t have an advocate in Perkins, nor, for that matter, will many religious minorities.

As Right Wing Watch reported, it was in 2014 that Perkins suggested that Christians who support legal equality for LGBTQ people don’t have the same legal protections as more conservative Christians, because a “true religious freedom” has to be “based on orthodox religious viewpoints.”

But Perkins has reserved some of his most unsettling ire for Muslims, arguing among other things that Islam “is not just a religion, Islam is an economic system, it is a judicial system, it is a compressive system which is incompatible with the Constitution.”

This is the same culture warrior who’ll now lead the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

The obvious question is how in the world Perkins was promoted to the leadership post. As Sarah Jones’ report added, the answer is that five of the nine commissioners were appointed by Republicans. Indeed, the panel includes Gary Bauer – who happens to be Tony Perkins’ predecessor at the Family Research Council.

Perkins’ term will end next year. Between now and then, I’d suggest taking the commission’s reports with a grain of salt.