Tony Perkins, the leader of the anti-LGBTQ hate group Family Research Council, is now the head of a legitimate government organization dedicated to religious freedom.
Perkins, who once said religious liberties don’t apply to Muslims, was appointed by GOP Sen. Mitch McConnell last year to serve as a member of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, which has done important work in the past. (For example, they periodically release a report on blasphemy laws around the world.)
Now Perkins has been made the leader of the group.
“Chair Perkins is an effective leader and an experienced advocate for freedom of religion or belief,” said retiring Chair Tenzin Dorjee, noting that Perkins has spoken out on the plight of religious minorities in Iran and of Uighurs in China. He also travelled to Egypt in 2018 where he raised religious freedom concerns with foreign leaders, including King Abdullah II of Jordan and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. As part of USCIRF’s Religious Prisoners of Conscience Project, Chair Perkins has adopted Boko Haram-held captive, 16-year-old Nigerian Leah Sharibu, and he was instrumental in securing the freedom of Pastor Andrew Brunson from Turkey.
Said Perkins, “I would like to thank my fellow commissioners for entrusting me with the responsibility of guiding this Commission. It is an honor to work with this diverse group of dedicated professionals on such an important issue. I look forward to continuing our efforts to promote the fundamental human right of religious freedom for all people.”
It’s hard to imagine Perkins will suddenly put aside his Christian Nationalist desires and advocates for the rights of Muslims and atheists the same way he does conservative Christians. He doesn’t even do that in the U.S. Why would he suddenly be a global leader in the matter? For all its flaws, the Southern Poverty Law Center has a solid writeup of why Perkins is problematic with plenty of evidence to back up their “extremist” designation:
Perkins has a sordid political history, having once purchased Klansman David Duke’s mailing list for use in a Louisiana political campaign he was managing. In 2001, Perkins gave a speech to a Louisiana chapter of the Council of Conservative Citizens, a white supremacist group…
Since joining the FRC, Perkins has taken the group in a harder anti-LGBT direction, using it to publish false propaganda about that community and contending that gay rights advocates intend to round up Christians in “boxcars.”
American Atheists President Nick Fish rightfully condemned the decision to make Perkins chair.
As the leader of a Christian supremacist group that weaponizes religion against the LGBTQ community and regularly attacks religious minorities as un-American, Tony Perkins is unqualified to serve as a commissioner or in any other capacity at the USCIRF, let alone to lead it.
Perkins has spent his career advocating a dangerous, distorted, and discriminatory vision of “religious liberty” that only protects orthodox Christians and leads an organization that supports abusing LGBTQ children with conversion therapy at home and enforcing the death penalty for LGBTQ people abroad.
He has no place on the USCIRF and his elevation to chair is an embarrassment to the United States.
It was bad enough that Perkins was made a member of this once-respected religious freedom group, but to have him at the helm is truly terrifying. There’s nothing in his past that suggests non-Christians can count on him to advocate for and defend their freedoms at a global scale. In his mind, conservative Christians are the most persecuted group anywhere. His version of religious freedom is allowing a baker to discriminate against gay customers.
It’s not that this position will allow him to do damage to non-Christian groups, but it does mean we’ll lack having a strong, credible government voice when it comes to matters of international religious freedom.