Washington D.C., Feb 26, 2015 / 18:28 pm
The State Department's new LGBT special envoy will promote human rights abroad but could also pose a serious threat to religious freedom, said several experts in the field.
"I believe this administration's long-term objective is more revolutionary," said Dr. Tom Farr, director of the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown University's Berkeley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs.
Through the new position, the U.S. could use its LGBT advocacy to "pressure" charitable groups and businesses to "abandon their core beliefs about the immorality of homosexual acts and same-sex 'marriage'," he explained, adding that the administration is "already trying to achieve" this in the U.S.
Anyone opposing same-sex marriage or the LGBT lifestyle could be "driven from the public life" through legal means or social ostracism, especially by the media, he told CNA, and this would be a consequence of U.S. policy.
The State Department announced Monday that Randy Berry, the U.S. Consul General to the Netherlands, would serve as the first Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBT Persons.
Secretary of State John Kerry explained that Berry, in his official capacity, would "work to overturn" criminal laws against same-sex conduct, fight anti-LGBT violence, and work for the human rights of LGBT persons overseas.
"At the same time, and often with our help, governments and other institutions, including those representing all religions, are taking steps to reaffirm the universal human rights of all persons, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity," Kerry stated.
Protecting human rights is important, but is not the same thing as promoting the LGBT lifestyle – something the new ambassador will probably do, argued Fr. Thomas Petri, O.P., academic dean of the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C. and an instructor of moral theology and pastoral studies.
"No innocent person should be a victim of violence," he affirmed, adding that he did not believe private behavior between consenting adults should be criminalized.
However, there's "quite a difference" between that and recognizing specific "rights" for LGBT persons that go beyond what are traditionally recognized as "human rights," he said. This could be the "slippery slope" that the new position creates.
"Just because I accept a person's dignity as a human being, as a child of God, doesn't mean that I therefore am obligated to accept every decision and choice, every lifestyle, every activity that the person engages in," he said.
Dr. Farr, who from 1999-2003 headed the State Department's Office of International Religious Freedom, said that current administration's record on religious freedom fails to inspire hope for this new position.
This administration has failed to promote religious freedom abroad despite a 16 year-old statutory requirement to do so, in part because it thinks that religious freedom would "empower religious communities" to stand by their convictions on sexual ethics, he said.
"The Obama State Department has from the beginning of its tenure in 2008 invested far more diplomatic resources and energy in promoting international LGBT rights than it has international religious freedom."
As an example, he pointed out that the position of international religious freedom ambassador has been vacant for half of Obama's presidency.
The appointment could have implications at home as well, particularly for faith-based charities and social organizations that morally object to the LGBT lifestyle, Farr suggested.
Some Catholic institutions, he said, "have already decided that core Catholic teachings on sexuality must be set aside."
"Even those who support same-sex 'marriage' should see how, when old and venerable institutions such as these abandon their fundamental religious beliefs, American pluralism has been damaged. That is not good for any of us."
Fr. Petri noted that this scenario of citizens being legal pressured to accept changes in beliefs about marriage presents a massive problem for moral theologians to consider.
"Is it legitimate to give in to these legal demands? Or ought we to really force the issue and be forced, essentially, to go out of business, to be pushed out of the square, and to become a minority ourselves, a minority voice, rather than to somehow consent to a legal program that is in fact pushing a morality that we find not only to be unfaithful to God but is unnatural?"