Tony Perkins, a Religious Right leader long criticized as anti-Muslim and anti-gay, has been named chairman of U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
Perkins, an ordained Southern Baptist minister and head of the conservative activist group the Family Research Council, succeeds retiring chair Tenzin Dorjee, a California State University professor and the first Tibetan Buddhist elected to lead the bipartisan advisory group created by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998.
“Chair Perkins is an effective leader and an experienced advocate for freedom of religion or belief,” Dorjee, first appointed to the commission by Democrat Nancy Pelosi in 2016, said in a press release announcing Perkins’ election to a 2019-2020 term as chair.
Perkins, appointed to the commission in 2018 by Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) to a term expiring in 2020, played a role in last year’s release of American pastor Andrew Brunson from a possible life in prison sentence in Turkey for espionage and support of a terrorist organization.
Perkins also has worked on behalf of Leah Sharibu, a 15-year-old Nigerian girl kidnapped a year ago along with more than 100 classmates by an offshoot of the terrorist group Boko Haram. While the other girls have been released, according to the Christian anti-persecution group Open Doors, Leah remains in captivity because she is a Christian and refuses to convert to Islam.
Perkins, who last year said President Donald Trump gets a “mulligan” from conservative evangelical leaders for alleged payoffs to adult film actress Stormy Daniels, has in the past raised questions about whether he supports religious freedom for everyone or for Christians only.
While in his role as on the USCIRF Perkins has spoken on the plight of Uighur Muslims in China, years ago he made headlines for suggesting that Islam is not necessarily protected by the U.S. Constitution.
“We are a nation that was founded on Judeo-Christian principles,” Perkins said in 2014. “That’s the foundation of our nation, not Islam, but the Judeo-Christian God.”
Family Research Council Vice President Jerry Boykin, a retired U.S. Army general, drew fire in 2004 for speaking to Christian groups and casting America’s War on Terror after 9/11 as a clash between Christianity and Islam.
Most of the criticism of Perkins’ elevation to chair of the commission that investigates and advises the White House and Congress on religious freedom violations abroad, however, stems from his attempts to frame U.S. culture war disputes such as allowing businesses to refuse service for same-sex weddings or denying adoption services to LGBTQ couples as matters of religious freedom.
“Tony Perkins is the most recognizable anti-LGBTQ activist in America,” Kate Ellis, president and CEO of the gay-rights advocacy group GLAAD, said when Perkins joined the commission last year. “He has espoused the most extreme views of LGBTQ people and other vulnerable communities including vocally supporting foreign laws that punish LGBTQ identity with death.”
In a 2011 address Perkins described gay activists as “intolerant,” “hateful,” “vile,” “spiteful” and “pawns” being used by the Devil. In 2015 he conceded in a radio interview that Hurricane Joaquin, a Category 4 storm that caused damage in the Caribbean, might be a sign of God’s wrath over America’s legalization of same-sex marriage.
Founded in 1983 as result of a hotel room prayer meeting including James Dobson and eight other Christian leaders attending a planning meeting for President Jimmy Carter’s 1980 White House Conference on Families, the Family Research Council envisions “a prevailing culture in which all human life is valued, families flourish, and religious liberty thrives.”
Current legislative priorities include restricting access to abortion, opposition to Equality Act legislation that would add LGBTQ persons to civil rights laws barring discrimination in public places and services based on sex and support for the Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act, allowing federally funded faith-based charities that provide adoption and foster care services to refuse those services if it would violate the provider’s “sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center designated the Family Research Council as an anti-LGBT hate group in 2010 “for decades of demonizing LGBT people and spreading harmful pseudoscience about them.”