President Joe Biden’s administration is busy ending existing U.S. religious freedom efforts on the global stage, focusing instead on immigration, refugees, LGBT rights, and women’s access to abortion, Real Clear Politics reported Tuesday.
Secretary of State Tony Blinken has been upfront with his belief that former President Donald Trump’s administration overly emphasized defending religious freedom on the world stage. Blinken argues all rights are “co-equal” and that religious freedom should not be prioritized over any others. Conservative critics respond that virtually every genocide of the past century has been against a religious minority.
“This is a major shift away from international religious freedom – moving away from even calling it religious freedom,” Nina Shea, director of the Center for Religious Freedom at the Hudson Institute, told Real Clear Politics. “It’s more of a watered down freedom of belief or religion, and equating religion with belief, which is very dangerous because that would mean you have a right to believe what you want to believe but you may not be allowed to practice it in a public square.”
Blinken’s greatest human rights challenge today is China’s ongoing genocide against Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, also fundamentally a religious freedom issue. Nevertheless, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has sought to cut off funding for faith-based relief groups in the Middle East, despite a bipartisan Trump-era law requiring aid be provided to these communities. (RELATED: ‘Get What They Deserve’: Trump Mocks SCOTUS, Predicts Court-Packing From Biden)
The Biden administration’s changes aren’t just on policy, however. They also appear to have renamed relevant offices to remove references to religious freedom or religion in general. A recent tweet from USAID touted the appointment of Rita Stephan as the regional coordinator and liaison for the office of “Equity for Diverse Communities in the Middle East and North Africa.” Under President Trump and previous presidents the office had been known as the “Religious and Ethnic Communities Office.”
A spokeswoman for USAID told Real Clear Politics the tweet had mistakenly changed the name, but no explanation has been offered and the tweet remains on the USAID Middle East account.
It’s #WomensHistoryMonth, and we can’t talk about female leaders without introducing our own Rita Stephan, Regional Coordinator & Liaison for Equity for Diverse Communities in MENA. Rita is passionate about fighting for Arab American inclusion. @Drratrout https://t.co/G8DYqbSEDy
— USAID Middle East (@USAIDMiddleEast) March 26, 2021
The spokeswoman also said the religious freedom programs were put under review as a routine measure from an incoming administration and may not be canceled, although some already have been.