Rights Groups Sound Alarm on Religion-Minded Pompeo Commission

MANHATTAN (CN) — Human rights groups asked a federal judge Friday to shut down a shadowy advisory committee to the Trump administration, saying its uniformly religious focus puts gay rights at risk as well as protections for abortions and birth control.

Alleging violations of the Federal Advisory Committee Act — a statute that since 1972 has demanded balanced membership and structure to limit the power of special interests — the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights brought the complaint in Manhattan with three other groups.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, right, and Mary Ann Glendon, left, are pictured here in 2019 unveiling the creation of Commission on Unalienable Rights. A Harvard Law School professor, Glendon is also a former U.S. ambassador to the Holy See. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Represented by Jeffrey Benjamin Dubner of the Democracy Forward Foundation, they take aim at the Commission on Unalienable Rights, which they contend is stacked with individuals who publicly respond “with skepticism, or outright derision” when confronting ideals such as gay rights, gender parity and reproductive rights.

Since its July 2019 inception, the commission has already met five times and purports to polishing a final report and recommendations for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Membership balance isn’t the only concern. “Indeed, there is reason to believe the secretary carefully selected the commission members to yield a pre-determined result: constraining the understanding of ‘unalienable’ human rights to the narrow set of rights allegedly grounded in theories of natural law,” the complaint states. “That result would exclude recognition of the rights of LGBTQI individuals seeking an end to unequal, discriminatory treatment, and of women and girls seeking equal treatment and access to sexual and reproductive healthcare services — likely in violation of the United States’ treaty obligations.”

Pompeo tapped former U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican Mary Ann Glendon to chair the committee. Glendon, a professor at Harvard Law School, was a mentor to Pompeo when he attended the prestigious law school in the early 1990s.

A conservative scholar, Glendon once turned down an honor from Notre Dame the year that former President Barack Obama was scheduled to deliver a commencement address.

Glendon’s opposition to abortion rights is well documented, and the complaint also quotes her description of same-sex marriage equality as “a bid for special preferences” that will leave the “rights of children … impaired” and put “religious freedom … at stake.”

“Though numerous members hold established views that are hostile to both sexual and reproductive health and rights and LGBTQI rights, the Commission lacks any member with an established commitment to upholding those rights, or those of other marginalized groups,” the complaint states.

Representatives for the Department of State did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday.

“The Commission on Unalienable Rights’ discriminatory work must be stopped, quickly,” Kerry Kennedy, president of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, said in a letter Friday. “Without action we risk the destruction of decades of progress by the human rights movement and emboldening oppressive regimes everywhere.”

The other named plaintiffs are the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE), the Council for Global Equality and the Global Justice Center.

They say the commission should be declared unlawful and enjoined from meeting further or otherwise conducting committee or subcommittee business.

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