Religious Right Determines Foreign
by Don Monkerud
Z magazine, May 2005
At the March meeting of the UN Commission
on the Status of Women attended by 6,000 women from 130 countries,
the U.S. delegation created a furor when it refused to sign a
declaration reaffirming the Beijing Platform for Action. Signed
by the U.S. and 184 other countries in 1995, the Platform included
resolutions asserting the fundamental rights of women and called
for ending discrimination against women in 12 areas.
Before signing a reaffirmation of the
Beijing Platform, the U.S. delegation demanded that an amendment
rejecting abortion be inserted. Meeting with widespread opposition
from international women's organizations and supported only by
Egypt and Qatar, the leader of the Ambassador Ellen R. Sauerbrey,
eventually relented and signed the declaration.
Before signing, Sauerbrey made it clear
that the declaration would not legally bind the U.S. under international
law, did not recognize abortion as a method of family planning,
or support abortion in its reproductive health assistance, and
did not support quotas as a method of advancing women. Sauerbrey,
a Republican national committeeperson described as a "conservative
stalwart" by National Review magazine, stressed that the
U.S. upholds an "ABC" approach to women's health: abstinence,
be faithful, and the use of condoms "where appropriate"
to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS.
According to Zonibel Woods, senior advisor
for international policy at the International Women's Health Coalition,
instead of addressing important human rights issues and determining
how to move forward at the conference, the U.S. delegation spent
its time attempting to roll back commitments made ten years ago.
"They wasted a lot of time," said Woods. "They
claim to defend women's rights, but they attack women's rights
at every international meeting when they think no one is looking."
Woods observed that other countries are
frustrated by U. S. policy that focuses moralistically on abstinence,
parental rights, and restricting comprehensive health education.
In addition to withholding $34 million earmarked for the United
Nations Population Fund, which is used to promote family planning,
sexual and reproductive rights, sex education, and condom use,
Bush imposed "a global gag rule," preventing organizations
that receive U.S. funds from counseling, referring, or providing
information on abortion. The UN estimates that withholding these
funds led to an additional 2 million unwanted pregnancies and
more than 75,000 infant and child deaths.
A collection of advocates for right-wing
think tanks and fundamentalist groups now populate U.S. delegations
to the UN. For example, the official U.S. women's delegation includes:
Nancy Pfotenhauer, president of the Independent Women's Forum,
which is opposed to spending tax dollars to relieve violence against
women and opposes women's comparable pay efforts and affirmative
action programs; and Winsome Packer, former executive assistance
to the vice president of the Heritage Foundation.
Bush's appointments to non-governmental
organization (NGO) observer status to the UN come from right-wing
religious groups, such as the following:
* Janet Parshall, author of Tough Faith:
Trusting God in Troubled Times and Light in the City: Why Christians
Must Advance and Not Retreat, hosts a conservative talk show and
frequently attacks women's rights advocates, such as Gloria Steinem
and Patricia Ireland.
* A devout Presbyterian, Patricia P. Brister
served as chair of the Republican Party of Louisiana and chair
of Bush/Cheney '04 in Louisiana.
* Susan B. Hirschmann, a lobbyist, is
a former chief of staff for Tom DeLay and former executive director
of Phyllis Schlafly's Eagle Forum, a conservative political action
group that helped defeat the Equal Rights Amendment and is a vociferous
opponent of the feminist movement.
Such appointments illustrate a religious
focus on foreign policy that is a break with the traditional separation
of church and state, a policy that began to change with Pat Robertson
and the creation of the Moral Majority. Backed by social conservatives,
neoconservative ideologues, and the religious right, Ronald Reagan
declared that foreign policy would henceforth rest on moral clarity
combined with military might.
In the 1980s and 1990s, some estimate
that right-wing foundations poured over $1 billion into conservative
think tanks, organizations, and lobbying efforts. According to
the Media Transparency grants database, in 1994 these conservative
"philanthropies" and think tanks controlled $1.1 billion
in assets. From 1992 to 1994 they awarded $300 million in grants
and targeted $210 million to support a wide variety of projects
Approximately 12 foundations fund a network
of interconnected groups that coordinate activities and push similar
agendas. Several of these right-wing religious groups stand out
for their growing power in foreign policy. They include:
* The Center for Security Policy claims
it is "committed to the time-tested philosophy of promoting
international peace through American strength." Its website
condemns the UN General Assembly for "utopian socialism"
and as a haven of anti-Americanism whose members "can only
be regarded as enemies." It questions whether the U.S. should
be a member of the UN and praises Bush for his willingness "to
finish the war (in Iraq) and win at all costs."
* The Institute on Religion and Democracy
(IRD) claims "to reform the social and political witness
of the American churches" by countering the "secular
agenda of the Left" with "the timeless message of Jesus
Christ." In fact, the IRD concentrates on attacking and discrediting
church leaders and provoking conflict in mainline Protestant denominations
that embrace "leftist crusades" such as feminism, environmentalism,
pacifism, multi-culturalism, socialism, sexual liberation, and
other movements that "pose a threat to our democracy."
The IRD supported the Contra death squads in Central America and
right-wing militaristic Zionists, and criticized mainstream Christians
that "spout pacifist-sounding slogans." The IRD is closely
allied with antifeminist organizations such as Concerned Women
for America and the Ecumenical Coalition on Women and Society,
who aim to "counter radical feminist ideology and agenda."
* The Institute for Public Policy and
Religion (IPPR), which backs the central role of religion in public
life, is led by Richard John Neuhaus, a Catholic priest and an
outspoken advocate of democratic capitalism. Since its founding,
the IPPR has tried to steer concern away from human rights toward
religious freedom. The institute warns its followers against engaging
in global warming issues, supports "just wars," and
advocates greater Christian participation in public and foreign
policy to promote family life, right-to-life, anti-abortion, and
anti-gay marriage programs.
* The Ethics and Public Policy Center
(EPPC), established in 1976, aims "to clarify and reinforce
the bond between the Judeo-Christian moral tradition and the public
debate over domestic and foreign policy issues." The EPPC
was the first institute to attack "secular humanists"
and promote a "cultural war" against liberalism. Ernest
Lefever, founder of EPPC, authored America's Imperial Burden,
which justifies U.S. empire building. Convicted felon Elliott
Abrams served as president from 1996 to 2001.
* A myriad of other groups such as the
Independent Women's Forum, Empower America, the Family Research
Council, Concerned Women for America, and the International Right-to-life
Foundation also play a role in promoting a religious right-wing
The efforts of these groups has paid off
in converting the role of the Christian right from one of criticizing
the UN as a secular institution to infiltrating and attempting
to reshape the UN agenda. According to Mark Silk, director of
the Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public
Life at Trinity College, Bush's focus on religious issues such
as abortion, religious school vouchers, same sex marriage, and
Israel helped mobilize his white evangelical base. Since 9!11,
foreign policy has taken on "significant religious dimensions"
with "a rhetorical style of America bringing God's gift of
freedom to the planet."
By breaking down the separation of church
and state, these groups are bringing religion squarely into the
center of government and refocusing governmental policy on their
narrowly defined ethical and religious views. Few would disagree
with an infusion of ethics into politics, but, as always, the
devil is in the details. These groups share a belief in the superiority
of U.S. religious and economic systems and are quick to force
them on other countries and cultures.
"Ethics that assume the superiority
of traditional Judeo-Christian values over other cultures and
religions are arrogant," said Tom Barry, policy director
for the International Relations Center. "This idea does not
facilitate democratic or constructive engagement, but leads to
reaction and growth in religious fundamentalism by destabilizing
other cultures and societies."
"We are not facilitating democratic
or constructive engagement but fostering a reaction," said
Barry. "By threatening people, we drive them back to fundamentalist
values. We are leading to a growth in religious fundamentalism.
Don Monkerud is a freelance writer
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