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Religious Right Determines Foreign Policy
A t 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 U.S. delegation, 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 committee- person 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 Pfoten- hauer, 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 and institutions.
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 agenda.
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.”
Don Monkerud is a freelance writer.
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HUMAN RIGHTS - The U.S. Human Rights Network will celebrate its 10th anniversary with the Advancing Human Rights 2013 Conference, December 6-8, in Atlanta, GA.
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AFRICAN/SOCIALIST - The Sixth Congress of the African People’s Socialist Party USA will be held December 7-11, in St. Petersburg, FL.
Contact: 1245 18th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33705; 727- 821-6620; info@aps puhuru.org; http://asiuhuru.org/.
SCHOOLS - The Dignity in Schools Campaign (DSC) will host a workshop on the DSC “Model Code on Education and Dignity: Presenting A Human Rights Framework for Schools” at the Mid-Hudson Region NY State Leadership Summit on School Justice Partnerships, December 11 in White Plains, NY.
Contact: http://www.dignityin schools.org/.
ANARCHIST/BOOKFAIR - The Humboldt Anarchist Book Fair will be held December 14, in Eureka, CA.
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CLIMATE - The World Symposium on Sustainable Development at Universities is hosting a follow-up event to the 2012 Rio de Janeiro symposium. The gathering will be held in Qatar on January 28-30, 2014.
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LABOR - The United Association for Labor Education (UALE) will host Organizing for Power: A New Labor Movement for the New Working Class in Los Angeles, March 26-29. Proposals are due December 15.
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MEDIA FELLOWSHIP - The Media Mobilizing Project is seeking applicants for the first annual Movement Media Fellowship Program. The Fellow will work with MMP to produce the spring season of Media Mobilizing Project TV. MMPTV is a news and talk show that tells the stories of local communities organizing to win human rights and build a movement to end poverty.
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RACE - The 7th Facing Race: A National Conference will be held in Dallas, TX November 13-15, 2014. Organizers, educators, artists, funders and everyone interested in racial equity is invited to exchange best practices and learn about innovative models and successful organizing initiatives. Proposals must be submitted by January 24, 2014.
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VETERANS - They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return from America’s Wars - The Untold Story, by Ann Jones, is about the journey of veterans from the moment of being wounded in rural Afghanistan to their return home.
Contact: Haymarket Books, PO Box 180165, Chicago, IL 60618; 773-583-7884; http://www.haymarketbooks.org/.
LIBYA - Destroying Libya and World Order: The Three-Decade U.S. Campaign to Terminate the Qaddafi Revolution, by Francis A. Boyle, is a history and critique of American foreign policy from Reagan to Obama.
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CHILDREN - Fannie and Freddie by Becky Z. Dernbach is about two bumbling villains who gamble away the savings of the people of Homeville.
Contact: fannieandfreddiebook @gmail.com; http://fannieand freddie.org/.
PROTEST/COMIC - Fight the Power!: A Visual History of Protest Among English Speaking Peoples, by Sean Michael Wilson and Benjamin Dickson is a graphic narrative that explains how people have fought against oppression.
Contact: Seven Stories Press, 140 Watts Street, New York, NY 10013; 212-226-8760; info@ sevenstories.com; http://www. sevenstories.com.
CHILDREN - Brave Girl by Michelle Markel and illustrated by Melissa Sweet is the true story of Clara Lemlich, a young Ukrainian immigrant who led the largest strike of women workers in U.S. history.
Contact: http://www.harpercollins childrens.com/Kids/.
FESTIVAL - The 2014 Queer Women of Color Film Festival will be held June 13-15 in San Francisco. The festival is currently accepting submissions until December 31.
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IRAQ/REFUGEES - Ten years after the U.S.-led war in Iraq, thousands of displaced Iraqi refugees are still facing a crisis in the United States. The Lost Dream follows Nazar and Salam who had to flee Iraq in order to avoid threats by Al- Qaeda-affiliated groups and Iraqi insurgents that consider them “traitors” for supporting U.S. forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Contact: Typecast Films, 888- 591-3456; info@type castfilms. com; http://type castfilms.com/.
HUMAN RIGHTS - Lyrical Revolt! III will be held December 4 in Syracuse, NY. The event will feature hip-hop musician Anhel whose album Young, Gifted, and Brown was just released. The event is sponsored by ANSWER Syracuse, Liberation News, and SyracuseHip Hop.com. Performers and artists are encouraged to send submissions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.answercoalition.org/syracuse/.
FOLK - Musician Painless Parker has released his album Music for miscreants, malcontents and misanthropes featuring “Fuck Yeah, the Working Class.”
Contact: email@example.com; http://painlessparkermusic.com/.
COMEDY - Political comedian Lee Camp’s new album Pepper Spray the Tears Away has been released.