- The United Nations is set to release a report at its annual Human Rights Council meeting in June to discuss the “perceived contradictions” between religious freedom and sexual orientation and gender identity.
- Respondents were asked whether or not any religious beliefs and LGBT+ rights were “mutually exclusive,” to point out policies that protect discriminatory religious practices and about the extent to which religious individuals have the right to a conscientious objection.
- “My biggest concern is the premise of the report which seems to suggest that freedom of religion and rights based on sexual orientation are the same,” Grace Melton, senior associate in the Richard and Helen DeVos Center for Life, Religion, and Family at the Heritage Foundation, told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
The United Nations is releasing a report in June regarding the “perceived contradictions” between religious freedom and sexual orientation and gender identity, or SOGI, laws and is looking to push governments to “fully comply with their obligations under international human rights law to protect and empower LGBT+ persons,” according to a U.N. announcement.
The U.N. closed a call for LGBT+ and religious freedom organizations to submit input to the report earlier this month and is scheduled to introduce its findings at the 53rd Human Rights Council meeting in June, according to the announcement. The announcement explains that while there are “perceived contradictions” between the LGBT+ community and religious freedom, the report aims to find ways to “protect LGBT+ persons’ access to faith and spirituality” while also indicating that religious beliefs that would contradict this are not “justified” under the protection of human rights. (RELATED: In Courts Across America, Religious Liberty Is On The Docket In 2023)
“Religious and spiritual narratives have also historically been used to promote, enable, and condone institutional and personal violence and discrimination against individuals based on sexual orientation or gender identity (real or presumed); repress sexual and gender diversity; and promote cis-gendered and heteronormative norms of sexual orientation and gender identity,” the announcement read. “These practices cannot be justified under the rubric of Freedom of Religious Beliefs, or indeed any other human right, to circumvent and defeat the rights of marginalized populations.”
The person in charge of the special report is Victor Madrigal-Borloz, an expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and a professor at Harvard Law School. Madrigal-Borloz has long been an LGBTQ advocate and recently welcomed Pope Francis’ declaration that homosexuality is “not a crime,” despite the pontiff’s further clarification that in religious circles it is still considered sinful.
Criminalization based on sexual orientation is contrary to international human rights law. I welcome this recognition by @Pontifex. #IESOGI@free_equal https://t.co/YlzffgRUKT
— IE SOGI, Victor Madrigal-Borloz (@victor_madrigal) January 25, 2023
Any organization that wished to comment for the inquiry was tasked with keeping their comments to a minimum of 2,5000 words and providing answers to 11 questions on religious freedom and the rights of the LGBT+ community, according to the announcement. Respondents were asked whether or not any religious beliefs and LGBT+ rights were “mutually exclusive,” to point out policies that protect discriminatory religious practices and about the extent to which religious individuals have the right to a conscientious objection.
The U.N. didn’t disclose who commented ahead of the report’s release, but two organizations publicly published their comments for the inquiry, focusing on their concerns about the impact on the religious community. The Religious Freedom Institute and the Heritage Foundation’s comments worried that the special inquiry would “undermine” and result in the “politicization” of religious freedom as a human right.
“My biggest concern is the premise of the report which seems to suggest that freedom of religion and rights based on sexual orientation are the same,” Grace Melton, senior associate in the Richard and Helen DeVos Center for Life, Religion, and Family at Heritage, told the Daily Caller News Foundation. “But certainly as a function of international law, they are not the same. Freedom of religion or belief, or freedom of conscience, is an internationally protected human right. It’s codified in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which is a legally binding treaty.”
Melton further explained that she was “not terribly optimistic” that Madrigal-Borloz shared her views on the subject and warned that both domestic and international laws have become more and more antagonistic toward those who openly express their religious beliefs.
“Increasingly the U.S. has seen international law or U.N. opinions inform our own judicial opinions or even our own laws, regardless of whether or not that’s what the Founders intended,” Melton said. “So from the outset, to conflate those two things is concerning from somebody who is supposed to be a human rights expert.”
Andrea Picciotti-Bayer, a fellow for the Institute for Human Ecology at the Catholic University of America, told the DCNF that she had similar worries, calling the report a “bold attack” and an attempt to try and “walk back the special protection” afforded to those with sincerely held religious beliefs.
“Despite saying that we shouldn’t have these rights pitted against one another, but when you keep reading on you see that the author of the report really does see [rights and religion] as being in conflict,” Picciotti-Bayer said. “I think it’s important that the foundation of the question of human rights is that these are universally shared rights, that we share not by nature of any affinities but because of our humanity and the right to religious freedom … that’s a right that each and every human being possesses.”
Picciotti-Bayer said that efforts like the one from the U.N. are based on a “narrative” that “religion is an oppressor and that religious freedom can be weaponized to harm others.”
“This narrative is not only harmful because it could make people doubt the importance of religion in their own lives and their communities, but it’s also harmful because it will undermine really important social protection. Religion and religious freedom is a stabilizing presence, and for the cases where religion is being misused to oppress, the answer isn’t to shut down religion entirely.”
The U.N. and Madrigal-Borloz did not respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.
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