In Russia, where President Vladimir Putin wants to insert references to God and heterosexual marriage into the constitution, certain forms of violence against women have been decriminalized—so long as the violence takes place within a traditional marriage. In Poland, where abortion access is already severely restricted, President Andrzej Duda has promised to sign draft legislation that would compel women to carry to term fetuses with severe congenital deformities, and a third of municipalities have declared themselves “LGBT-free zones”—all in order to “defend Christian values,” as one leader of the ruling party puts it. In Turkey, reports of gender-based violence have risen sharply under the auspices of a president who has derided women’s equality and railed against birth control while claiming to champion traditional families.
In the United States, we should become increasingly familiar with this pernicious form of religious nationalism—because, under the banner of “religious freedom,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appears to offer his blessing to these kinds of initiatives. In 2019, Pompeo established the Commission on Unalienable Rights, a commission ostensibly intended to reformulate America’s commitment to advancing human rights abroad. But the secretary of state already seems to know which rights may take preference, and at whose expense. “There are those who would have preferred I didn’t do it and are concerned about the answers that our foundational documents will provide,” Pompeo commented last fall at a gathering of the Concerned Women for America, a conservative women’s group, at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. “I know where those rights came from. They came from the Lord.”
To be clear, at that gathering, Pompeo expressed a concern for the rights of a variety of oppressed religious groups, from the Uighurs in China to the Yazidis in the Middle East to persecuted Christians in countries like Iraq. Religious persecution is real and devastating, and it is always good news when national leaders can stand up for the rights of mistreated minorities. But these expressions of support for the genuinely oppressed are far from the only agenda of the commission, which seems to have more to do with securing the freedom of some governments to impose religious orthodoxy on their own populations.