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Panel debates gay rights vs. religious liberty

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
WASHINGTON (BP) -- Violence against homosexuals overseas should be opposed, but their rights should not take precedence over religious freedom, said a Southern Baptist church-state expert.

"We certainly don't think people should be imprisoned or discriminated against because of their sexual orientation; we also don't think they should have special protections," Richard Land told Baptist Press.

The United Nations community advocates that "whenever the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people collide with religious freedom rights, religious freedom rights must give way. And we fundamentally disagree with that," said Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

Land and three other panelists addressed the issue of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) rights vs. religious rights in a Capitol Hill discussion Oct. 18. The topic presented to the panelists was whether the Obama administration's promotion of LGBT rights is given greater priority than its promotion of international religious freedom. All panelists agreed violence against LGBT persons and religious adherents is wrong, but some said they believe the Obama administration will go further by advocating the right of LGBT people abroad to marry and adopt -- at the expense of religious rights. On Tuesday (Oct. 30), Vice President Joseph Biden was talking to a voter when he called transgendered discrimination the "civil rights issue of our time," according to

"I believe the Obama administration, if it is elected , will pursue the gay agenda far beyond the issue of violence," said panelist Thomas Farr, director of the Religious Freedom Project in the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs at Georgetown University. "They will advocate for gay marriage and gay adoption overseas, and it will continue to do what it has done today and that is diminish the role of religious freedom in our foreign policy."


President Obama in December 2011 issued a memorandum opposing violence and discrimination against homosexuals internationally. The memorandum required all U.S. government agencies abroad to oppose violence against gays and to submit an annual report detailing the work done to promote LGBT rights.

All panelists said the Obama administration is not doing enough to promote religious freedom.

Land agreed, saying LGBT rights take precedence over religious rights among international organizations. "We were all pretty disappointed that the Clinton State Department and the president were not more vigorous in their defense of religious freedom," Land said, commenting on his service on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom that ended earlier this year.

LGBT rights should be supported in all countries, said James Kirchick, fellow at the Foundation of Defense of Democracies. Homosexuality is criminalized in 76 countries, and many gays are beaten or hung from cranes in the town square for their sexual preferences, he said during the panel discussion.

"There is no inherent incompatibility, rather, between the promotion of religious freedom abroad, something that I believe to be a cornerstone of American foreign policy since the founding of this country, and promoting the basic rights of gay individuals," Kirchick said.

Kirchick referred to the Global Equality Fund, launched by Secretary Clinton and the State Department in 2011. The fund provides about $3 million in support of programs advancing the LGBT agenda around the world. It specifically promotes equality, advocacy, protection and dialogue, according to the fund. Despite some religious groups' fears, this $3 million will not take away any noticeable amount of funds from the promotion of religious freedom abroad, Kirchick said.


The Obama administration's support of LGBT rights goes beyond opposing violence, Austin Ruse said, agreeing with his fellow panelist Farr.

"Violence against homosexuals is not really the issue," said Ruse, president of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute. "It is partially, but it's not fully.... When sexual orientation and gender identity become new categories of nondiscrimination in international law, it will include everything, not just prohibiting violence against homosexuals. It's everything. You say that it's not about homosexual marriage and adoption -- it most certainly is."

Ruse gave examples of LGBT rights trumping religious freedom overseas:

-- Evangelical pastor Ake Green was prosecuted in a Swedish criminal court for preaching on the biblical view of homosexuality;

-- Italian parliamentarian Rocco Buttiglione was nominated to serve as European Union commissioner for justice. When he was asked if he agreed with the Catholic Church that homosexual acts are sinful, he said yes -- and was denied the post.

The Obama administration recognizes the conflict between LGBT rights and religious freedom, but it errs on the side of LGBT rights, Farr said.

This year the White House has removed religious freedom from the State Department's human rights report, a report that has existed for about 40 years, Farr said. Furthermore, while LGBT programs were being put in place during the early years of the Obama administration, a religious freedom ambassador was not appointed until two years into Obama's term, Farr said.


The Obama administration "rejects religious freedom as a legitimate aspiration for foreign policy," Farr said. The best way to stop violence against LGBTs and religious groups is to promote religious freedom, which he described as a non-violent moral approach.

"If you advance religious freedom in a vigorous way, you are certainly not advancing the right for violence against anyone, including a gay person, but you are advancing the right of religious individuals, or frankly anybody else, to make religious arguments in the public square against things like gay marriage and gay adoption," Farr said.

All panelists agreed that while there are many differences between Americans on the issue of LGBT rights and religious freedom, it is important to find common ground in the fight against violence toward minorities abroad.

"We should remember who the real enemies are here, and it's not other Americans. It's authoritarians overseas who will oppress gay people and religious people," Kirchick said.

The Common Sense Society sponsored the panel discussion, which was held at a House of Representatives office building.

Anne Reiner is an intern with the Washington bureau of Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook ( ) and in your email (


Copyright (c) 2012 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press

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