U.S. Commission on Unalienable Rights’ Meeting, November 1, 2019

Here is a summary of the November 1, 2019, meeting of the U.S. Commission on Unalienable Rights featuring  presentations by Cass Sunstein, the Robert Walmaly University Professor at Harvard Law School, and Orlando Paterson, the John Cowles Professor of Sociology at Harvard University.  [1]

Chair May Ann Glendon’s Introduction

Chair Glendon “explained that the Commission is still in the very beginning stages of its task, which is to advise the Secretary of State on the role human rights play in foreign policy, with that advice grounded in America’s founding principles, as well as the international commitments the United States made after World War II. Glendon emphasized the Commission’s independence: Commissioners are obliged to give the Secretary their best advice, to be non-partisan, and to consult broadly with experts from Department of State (for example, in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL)), but also with outside activists and academic specialists. Glendon praised the speakers who participated in the Commission’s previous meeting in October.”

Commissioner’s Comments

“Each commissioner explained his/her professional background and reflected on the speakers from the last session.” Of particular note is the following comments by Commissioner  Dr. Jacqueline Rivers, who “voiced a sentiment, shared by others, that bridged the different topics and time periods the Commission will consider in its work. For Rivers, one crucial question is how to avoid repeating a ‘major failing’ at the time of the Founding, when there was a great articulation of rights (for example, in the Declaration of Independence) but also, because of the prevalence of chattel slavery and the political subordination of large segments of society, a graphic failure to live up to those principles. As she contemplates how the United States can prevent that same failure from re-occurring internationally, one focus for Rivers will be on achieving consistency in forcefully stating, and then implementing protections for, human rights.”

Professor Cass Sunstein’s Presentation

Sunstein opened by saying he would make two major points:

  • First, . . .the U.S. conception of rights [in 1776] was a historical outgrowth of a sustained attack on monarchical legacy and the notion that some people rank above others by birth. Rights, [ however,] reflected a belief in human  dignity and citizenship.
  • Second, ”’freedom from desperate conditionshad widespread support at the Founding. Although it was not constitutionalized in any sense, . . . the articulation of, and public support for, this freedom later culminated in President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Second Bill of Rights. Thus, . . . there is a degree of continuity between newer, twentieth century conceptions of rights and freedoms and those from the founding era.” (Emphases added.)

Rights and citizenship: the “American Revolution is often considered to be ‘conservative,’ relatively speaking – or at least cautious and milder than the French and Russian revolutions. But, . . . that characterization is misleading, given the major break with British legacy that occurred in the American colonies in the decades leading up to the revolution. During that time period, cultural notions of republicanism were popular, which led to fresh thinking about what governments ‘do’ and the purposes for which they exist. In America, ‘radical’ republicanism entailed self-government and eliminated social class-based hierarchies of various kinds. [The] so-called ‘down look’ of the poor – a sign they ‘knew their place’ and had resigned themselves to their lowliness. This down look changed as the explosive new ideas of liberty and equality took hold on society. John Adams wrote with amazement that ‘Idolatry to Monarchs, and servility to Aristocratical Pride, was never so totally eradicated from so many Minds in so short a time.’ . . . [This] quote is significant because Adams’s surprise is palpable – he did not express such obvious ‘shock’ in any of his other writings. The transformation upon which Adams was remarking involved people who once regarded themselves as subjects coming to regard themselves instead as citizens, who possess sovereignty. This is a major development, . . . and to lament on what the revolution did not accomplish is to miss the remarkable social and political restructuring that it set into motion.”

Citizenship as unifying theme in Bill of Rights. Shifting to the U.S. Bill of Rights, . . . the American Founders sought, above all, to guarantee the preconditions of effective self-government. (. . .We fail to understand the Bill of Rights if we see it as based solely on opposition to government, or on a kind of laissez-faire individualism.) “

“[Among the writings [of the Founders] is a convergence of several intellectual traditions, both theological and otherwise.”

“Turning to individual provisions of the Bill of Rights, . . . the jury trial protected by the Sixth and Seventh Amendments . . .  should be thought of not only in terms of the individual legal right created. The jury trial also allows for the participation of citizens – ones, who, prior to the Revolution, may have borne the ‘down look’ – in American civil and criminal justice systems. In deciding individual cases, jurors can modify the harsh edges of law by finding defendants innocent in close cases. And in carrying out these [duties?]. jurors also receive an education in the law itself.”

“In the same regard, . . . the right to private property, which creates a [sense?] of individual control (by protecting people’s holdings against government taking without compensation) but is also necessary for the status of citizenship. Since private property provides a means for people to live and support themselves, citizens possessing it are not solely dependent on the good will of government.”

“As for the Second Amendment, . . .  it is controversial in modern times. . . .[It] is a political right, which, at a minimum, prevents the federal government from outlawing state militias. These militias perform important democratic functions – by providing a training ground for the cultivation of virtue, and a constraint on potentially tyrannical government.”

The “Bill of Rights is not only about creating a sphere of individual liberty, free of government control, but also about creating conditions that would allow for the robust practice of citizenship.”

Social and economic rights: . . . [The] Founders gave no serious thought to including social and economic guarantees in the Bill of Rights. But . . . some of the founders’ writing, while not at the constitutional level, shows a surprisingly strong commitment to such guarantees. James Madison, for example, wrote of ‘withholding unnecessary opportunities from a few, to increase the inequality of property, by an immoderate, and especially unmerited, accumulation of riches.’ Madison also appeared in favor of ‘rais[ing] extreme indigence toward a state of comfort.’ Meanwhile, Thomas Jefferson, while not a framer of the Constitution, exerted a strong influence during the founding period and wrote of ‘lessening the inequality of property’ by ‘exempt[ing] all from taxation below a certain point, and . . . tax[ing] the higher portions of property in geometrical progression as they rise.’ . . . [S]ocial theorists Montesquieu, John Locke, and Thomas Paine, all of whom were read by the American founders,. . . [in their writings] similarly suggest a commitment to social and economic rights. [D]uring the constitutional framing period, there was widespread support in America for legislation that would provide poor people with the basic necessities of life and that, unlike in England, where so-called ‘outdoor relief’ to able-bodied poor people was restricted, nearly all U.S. states allowed that form of assistance.“

“FDR and the Second Bill of Rights: . . . In 1944, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) delivered a State of the Union address to Congress, which connected the war against tyranny with the Great Depression and the subsequent effort to combat economic distress domestically. The speech characterized ‘the one supreme objective for the future’ as ‘security,’ a term with multiple meanings. For FDR, security entailed not only ‘freedom from fear’ but also ‘freedom from want.’ . . . FDR explicitly used the, threat from Germany and Japan as an occasion for a renewed emphasis on providing protection against the most serious forms of human vulnerability at home.”

“In his speech, FDR looked back to the framing of the Constitution and argued that the unalienable rights at the Founding had proved inadequate, since it had become obvious that ‘true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence.’ That provided the justification for FDR laying out his ‘Second Bill of Rights,’ which included the right to employment, to a dwelling place, to medical care, and to a good education, among other rights. . . . Roosevelt did not mean for these rights to be judicially enforceable, and indeed . . . FDR would have ‘deplored’ this idea. In his speech, however, FDR did call on Congress to ‘explore the means for implementing the economic bill of rights-for it is definitely the responsibility of Congress to do so.’”

“FDR’s speech is significant for marking the collapse of the idea, prominent in the period before the New Deal, that freedom comes from an absence of government. It was also important because the Second Bill of Rights went on to influence the content of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, and dozens of foreign constitutions.”

Sunstein’s Responses to Commissioners’ Questions

The Commission’s Executive Director, Peter Berkowitz: Heagreed that the jury trial right is essential to citizenship in a liberal democracy, . . . [but] that few would contend the jury right to be appropriately labeled as a ‘human’ and/or ‘unalienable’ right. Is a jury trial, Berkowitz wondered, essential to human flourishing in non-democratic regimes?“

  • Sunstein responded: “[C]ertain protections in the [original] Bill of Rights are properly characterized as unalienable; off the top of his head, he . . . [said] that free speech and property rights, for example, qualify. . . . [He] was ‘hoping and gambling that many cultures have a ‘Locke-type’ figure that provides the philosophical founding for these rights in non-Anglo American traditions. When it comes to social and economic rights, Sunstein said the situation is somewhat different. Were those rights to qualify as unalienable, what is necessary would be ‘a theory about how, if people are living in desperate conditions, a universal right is being violated.’ He said that, in some sense, the destitute living on the street without food or shelter suffer from their humanity being ‘annihilated,’ but also said he was ‘groping for right verbal formulation’ to express this notion in terms of rights.“

Rabbi Dr. Meir Soloveichik, the Director of the Zahava and Moshael Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought at Yeshiva University and rabbi of Congregation Shearith Israel, said that “the founders often stressed that certain rights are pre-political – like the free exercise of religion. He asked . . . if some of the other rights contained inside the Bill of Rights are also pre-political. . . . Soloveichik also asked whether the promotion of social and economic rights at the hands of government, . . .will inevitably clash with individual liberty. (By way of example, Soloveichik noted that expanding health care coverage at times has been in tension with individual religious liberty claims.)”

  • Sunstein said the following: “[T]ension between different rights is inevitable, regardless of whether social and economic rights (rather than other kinds) are involved. Citing the U.S. Supreme Court decision Wisconsin v. Yoder, Sunstein said that it is clear that certain kinds of rights—for example. the right to religious free exercise – prevail over others in legal disputes, and that, in order to decide, courts sometimes will look at the severity with which a right is being infringed, a question over which reasonable people may disagree. He said that clashes are an occasional but not devastating consequence of a regime recognizing multiple rights. . . . Sunstein [also] said that the majority of the rights contained in the Bill of Rights are pre-political, but that that is not at odds with acknowledging the Bill of Rights as being fundamentally ‘about’ citizenship.”

Professor Paolo Carozza, Professor of Law and Concurrent Professor of Political Science at the University of Notre Dame, where he also directs the Kellogg Institute for International Studies, asked Sunstein to elaborate on the nature of social and economic rights, and his rationale for saying that they are judicially unenforceable. . . .”

  • Sunstein “said that he had a ‘mundane’ account of why they are not judicially enforceable, and that is because allocative decisions are not well suited, institutionally, for judicial oversight. He cited the example of judges in South Africa facing severe challenges when attempting to enforce social and economic rights in that country.”

Dr. Christopher Tollefsen, Distinguished Professor and Chair of Philosophy at the University of South Carolina,“brought up the right to a jury trial, saying that he would have thought that the notion underlying it is not citizenship, . . ., but rather fairness. Tollefsen asked if there was a more pluralistic set of directions that the notion of dignity ‘can go in’ that does not need to get ‘filtered through’ citizenship.

  • Sunstein “agreed that the jury right is most fundamentally about fairness, but he pushed back against Tollefsen’s labeling citizenship as just a ‘bonus’ in the Bill of Rights. Sunstein said that it was more like a by-product of notions central to our constitutional system. Sunstein further explained that it is hard to understand the Bill of Rights outside the context of a revolution recently fought for republican self-government. In his view, modern observers tend to read it in a way that is de-historicized.”

Dr. David Tse-Chien Pan, Professor of German at the University of California, Irvine, “wondered if, in U.S. foreign policy, any defense of human rights necessarily entailed creating republican self-government everywhere. He asked Sunstein if, in his view, there could be a . . . [more] modest role for human rights that does not necessitate regime change.”

  • Sunstein “answered that yes, the U.S. can hold republican self-government up as ideal while still working with other types of regimes. In Sunstein’s view, the writings of the American founders speak deeply to nations and peoples that are ambivalent about republican self-government, and part of the reason may be the writings’ emphasis, though never quite expressed in these terms, on human dignity.”

Dr. Russell A Berman, the Walter A. Haas Professor in the Humanities at Stanford University and a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution and current Senior Advisor in Policy Planning at the Department of State, “asked why FDR would have, in Sunstein’s words, ‘deplored’ the judicial enforcement of social and economic rights.”

  • Sunstein “said that FDR was not a fan of judicial ‘aggressiveness’ generally and would have been attuned to tradeoffs and difficulties inherent in economic allocation. That FDR nonetheless was insistent that social and economic guarantees be labeled as ‘rights,’ in Sunstein’s view, speaks to the president’s view that they have some sort of moral foundation. Furthermore, that FDR was willing to embrace the rights in a presidential speech, but would probably not have elected for [them to] be extensions to the Bill of Rights, may have had something to with his belief – shared by James Madison in his own day – in ‘infusing the culture’ with ideas that eventually become part of the national fabric. Sunstein pointed out that the right to education, and bans on monopolistic corporations, still widely embraced in the 21st century, show that Roosevelt really did play an enduring role in shaping our national consciousness.”

Professor Hamza Yusuf Hanson, the President of Zaytuna College, the first accredited Muslim liberal arts college in the United States, and Dr. Jacqueline Rivers, Lecturer in Sociology at Harvard University, exchanged ideas regarding private property. Hanson said that scholar Richard Weaver once described it as the ‘last metaphysical right’ that people agree upon, but that, in the 20th and 21st centuries, it has not received as much attention as it did in the time of Locke and the American revolutionaries.”

  • Sunstein “said that, in Western countries, the perceived need to fight for property rights is not acutely felt, because property is relatively secure in these places. But in other countries where those rights are most needed, the idea of private property is under attack.

Rivers “segued into consideration of other types of property. She noted that the American welfare system is still weaker than in some other Western countries. Could that be, she wondered, because America has become overcommitted to protecting private property?”

  • Sunstein “described himself as a proponent of private property and saw no conflict between endorsing private property rights alongside social welfare benefits. Sunstein brought up President Ronald Reagan, for whom he once worked, saying that Reagan was on record for endorsing a right to education and other rights conventionally associated with more socially progressive advocates.” 

Chair Mary Ann Glendon thanked Sunstein for being helpful in achieving one of the most challenging parts of the Commission’s overarching task – showing a degree of continuity between the Founding and the New Deal, and from New Deal to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). She asked if the Bill of Rights leaving out social and economic guarantees could be thought of as an instance in which the founders took for granted the local associations and arrangements that would care for indigent persons.

  • Sunstein “answered affirmatively, saying that the Constitution contemplated institutional pluralism. He noted that, in the early years of the republic, the national government had a limited role and the Bill of Rights did not apply to states.”

Professor Orlando Patterson’s Presentation

“Patterson’s first main point was that the idea of rights and the idea of freedom overlap but are not interchangeable.”

“The United States has long seen itself as the ‘Land of the Free,’ and, as the global leader of the free world, its “mission” has been to ensure freedom of its citizens to a degree not enjoyed in many other countries. But Patterson said that another concept has come to compete with this notion. Especially since World War II, U.S. has come to embrace individual rights in fits and starts.”

“Patterson expanded on the distinction (freedom vs. rights) by clarifying what, in his mind, ‘freedom’’means. He referred to it as a tripartite idea.”

  • First, human persons are free, at least to the degree they are not under power of others, to make choices, to do what they want, and to achieve the desires they set for themselves.”
  • Second, they are free to exercise power to influence the world. (Patterson called this “empowerment” and cited Indian economist and philosopher Amartya Sen.) For long periods of human history, Patterson argued, this type of freedom was associated with power over other people. This is important to recognize because, for him, freedom is not the opposite of power, even though it is commonly held to be.”
    • “To support his argument.Patterson mentioned “the Southern slaveholding conception of freedom” in the United States, which entailed the freedom of wealthy landowners to control the bodies and labor of African-Americans and was famously discussed by Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas in their debates.”
    • “Even though slavery has been abolished in America for many years, Patterson said that freedom as ‘power over others’ continues in the 21st century – in the form of some people controlling large amounts of property.”
  • Third, people are free, according to Patterson, to share in the collective power of groups. He referred to this as civic freedom, and as best realized through democracy.”

“Patterson called tripartite freedom quintessentially Western in origin, rather than universal. He explained that, although English philosopher John Locke held freedom to be ‘written on the heart of man’ (Patterson’s words), freedom actually involves an ancient, culturally specific, way of looking at the world. What is uniquely Western is not only the tripartite nature of freedom, but also its relative status – in other words, that freedom is valorized as one of the pinnacle values of civilization. Contributing to this prioritization, . . [was].the religion that fashioned the West, Christianity (which emphasizes redemption, sacrifice as the way to free one’s self from spiritual slavery), as well as earlier, Roman notions of liberty. Patterson compared the spread of freedom across the world to Christian missionary work, arguing that freedom became more universal over time. This, in his view, has not always been without negative consequences. Military interventions in Iraq have shown that assuming all people (and especially non-Westerners) to desire freedom can be wrong and even dangerous.”

“‘Rights’ are distinguishable from freedom. For Patterson, they represent a set of claims concerning our condition as human beings. The claims are moral in nature, and their protection is necessary to preserve our most fundamental sense of what it means to be human. Rights are inherently egalitarian, whereas with ‘freedom,’ Patterson argued, there is no such assumption of equality.”

“Patterson then commented on America’s complex relationship between rights and freedom, stressing that the American tradition differs from the European one. In Britain, Patterson said, there frequently has been skepticism about rights. The English jurist and social reformer Jeremy Bentham, for example, called natural rights “nonsense upon stilts.” In the United States, there has been a stronger embrace of rights, but also a lingering uneasiness about them, according to Patterson. He mentioned that the Bill of Rights was a compromise measure that, at its adoption, few if any thought was perfect. Patterson noted that, throughout American history, there has been elite opposition to rights held by ‘the masses.’ He also mentioned the passage of the 14th Amendment and the Slaughterhouse cases as important rights milestones.”

“Patterson quoted an intellectual descendant of Jeremy Bentham, the philosopher Alasdair McIntyre, who once described rights as a ‘fiction,’ writing that ‘belief in them is one with belief in witches and unicorns.’”

“Then Patterson shifted gears to discuss the U.S. ‘Rights Revolution,’ which he believes stands in stark contrast with the history preceding it. His view is that it is anachronistic to posit that rights are the most critical element of America’s founding documents. That is because, in Patterson’s view, rights did not gain currency until much later – specifically, when the horrors of Nazism during World War II shocked the world’s conscience, triggering people’s shared moral instincts that there must be some baseline that all people are owed, inhering their basic humanity. The war’s atrocities combined with anti-imperial movements across the world and other developments: Black Americans fighting for freedom and returning home, wondering what their status would be in American politics, and what they held in common with others fighting for freedom; a shift in decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court; and the social movements waged by women and other groups. These trend lines converged and culminated in the 1970s, a decade which Patterson called quite extraordinary, even though, in his view, America in many respects is still (in the year 2019) in the midst of the lingering rights revolution.”

“Patterson held that the next phase of the rights revolution, almost as important as War II in terms of focusing attention on the deprivation of human rights, began to occur in the 1980s, with the emergence of the fight against modern slavery and human trafficking. Patterson emphasized that trafficking is normally spoken about as a violation of rights, more than it is a violation of freedom. He mentioned sex trafficking, the widespread condemnation of which has led to an alliance of strange bedfellows – the evangelical right and feminist left. He also mentioned labor trafficking, and employers being unable to say ‘stay out of our business’ as various forms of on-the-job inequity are now challenged and subject to outside scrutiny.”

“Patterson gave a tip of the hat to the U.S. Department of State for publishing its annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, and said that, when it comes to condemning trafficking, the Department is better off using the language of rights than it is using the language of freedom. Each year, more and more people are able to make rights claims – for example, women in forced marriages, who have been newly defined as ‘slaves.’ Patterson described the language of rights as infinitely expandable to accommodate new kinds of claims. He saw this largely as a good thing: America is leading by example, expanding rights for an ever increasing number of people. As intimated at other points during his remarks, Patterson said that although he retains great love and respect for the concept of freedom, he thinks it is a mistake for the West to proclaim it to the world and try to convert others into showing similar reverence. Rhetorically speaking, rights are more effective tools to achieve similar ends.”

Patterson’s Responses to Questions

Executive Director Berkowitz “thanked Patterson for his thoughtful talk and then explained that the Commission has heard some criticisms of rights that are very similar to ones Patterson made about ‘freedom’ – that rights are exclusively Western, for example. Berkowitz said he welcomed Patterson’s thoughts on whether criticisms are equally applicable to both concepts.”

  • Patterson “said that, in his view, the [assertion that] rights are Western’ claims are shallower than those waged against freedom. Rights have origins that go at least as far back as the Middle Ages and Reformation. Admitting that there is a complicated story of how the concept of rights evolved and influenced public discourse, Patterson said that ‘rights talk’ – while Western in origin – was, from very beginning, seen as applying to all human beings, unlike freedom. Fundamental rights, thus, were extra-territorial and extra-political.”

Tollefsen “expressed some sympathy for the distinction Patterson drew between freedom and rights. Nothing that there are articulations of freedom that can come into tension with rights, Tollefsen cited the ‘freedom to consume,’ which, when enjoyed, can sometimes mean disregarding the rights of those whose exploited labor produced goods consumers enjoy. But Tollefsen also worried that any moral concern over modern-day slavery must involve an appeal to some notion of freedom.”

  • Patterson “responded that the concepts in question (rights, freedom) definitely overlap. But he said that, when it comes to international advocacy, work on behalf of freedom does not always have the same force or effect that rights-based advocacy does. Patterson mentioned Freedom House, which honors  countries on their honoring of civil and political rights, and contrasted its work with Department’s TIP report. Patterson discussed the TIP report’s 3-tier methodology, a provided the example of Japan, where there was great consternation when the U.S. did it in its TIP report. In response to the demotion, Japan made important reforms. Patterson’s basic point was that the United States can promote liberal democracy (and thus-freedom) abroad but must remember that democracy requires preconditions in order to function successfully. He argued that, when it comes to making rights claims, those preconditions are not as necessary because people have rights regardless of what political system is in place.”

Soloveichik “acknowledged that the concept of freedom has been misused and perverted at times throughout America’s history. But then he cited the abolitionist movement, during which the concepts of freedom and rights appeared to go hand in hand. Soloveichik also mentioned Martin Luther King, Jr., one of whose most famous lines is “let freedom ring.” Soloveichik’s question was whether freedom and rights enhance one another.”

  • Patterson “responded that, yes, at America’s best moments – in some of President Abraham Lincoln’s writings, for example, during the struggle for women’s suffrage and equality, etc. – rights and freedom complement each other ‘sublimely.’ But during our country’s worst moments, the two concepts are twinned in perverted ways – for example, during the Confederacy, when southern liberty was held up as an ideal while African American slaves’ rights were openly and appallingly violated.“

Katrina Swett, the President of the Tom Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice,  said “that she had always thought of freedom and human rights as inextricably connected, but that Patterson’s writings and lecture were very challenging to her past understandings. She wondered as a practical matter if free and democratic societies do the best job of protecting rights.”

  • Patterson “said that, absolutely, they do. But then he mentioned that somewhere on the order of 70% of the world’s chocolate is (or previously was) produced by child labor. In recent years, thousands of NGOs have pressured chocolate manufacturers, farmers, and governments to change this situation. Patterson’s point was that, when it comes to protecting human rights, advocates can achieve progress even in non-democracies. (Democracies are ideal, but they are not the only regimes where rights can be protected.) In another example, he said that China has cut poverty in half. People are no longer starving – because China, though far from a democracy, in certain respects has honored the ‘right to food’ and the ‘right to life.’”

Chair Glendon concluded by thanking Patterson for helping the Commission with a problem it will have to confront – the difficulties and confusion inherent in using terms and concepts to which different groups impute various meanings and connotations.”

Public Comments

Several members of the public made comments. Here is a summary of the more substantive ones.

“A representative from the Center for Family and Human Rights spoke of the unintended consequences of rights expansion: Sometimes people have to give up certain rights in order to accommodate new definitions of rights – thus promoting a ‘competition of rights’ [and?] growing skepticism regarding the United Nations (UN) approach to protecting human [rights. The representative stressed that now is a prime opportunity for basic issues to be [reframed?]”

“Fr. Mark Hodges, an Orthodox priest. spoke about the Christian conception of rights, framework which involves concepts like universal dignity and free will. He urged the Commission to prioritize religious freedom and the right to life.”

“A representative from the Heritage Foundation said that when international bodies like the UN consider all rights on equal footing, it is worth asking whether they are confusing certain ‘desirable ends’ with human rights. He asked how long internal conflicts can persist within the global human rights movement before we reach a point of human rights paralysis, and he wondered whether the proliferation of rights does violence to the notion of unalienable rights. Commissioner Paola Carozza responded that, in international human rights law, there actually is a hierarchy of rights – some are non-derogable, and some achieve status of jus cogens, while others do not.”

“A law professor from the University of Oklahoma then asked whether the comments submitted to the Commission by various civil society groups will be made public, and suggested the Commission publish specific questions, and set specific deadlines, so that outside groups can contribute more efficiently.”

“Representatives from Human Rights Watch urged the Commission to invite ‘grassroots’ human rights defenders to come testify, saying their work is crucial but does not enter into ‘esoteric academic debates.’”

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[1] Update on U.S. Commission on Unalienable Rights, dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 19, 2020).   

[2] Comm’n Unalienable Rts, Agenda (Nov. 1, 2019); Comm’n Unalienable Rts., Minutes (Nov. 1, 2019).

 

Pope Francis Reminds Us To Welcome, Protect, Promote and Integrate Refugees and Other Migrants

In 2019, Pope Francis on at least three occasions reminded everyone of the Biblical injunctions to welcome, protect, promote and integrate refugees and migrants. Here are his words on those occasions.

April 30, 2019[1]

The first was on April 30, 2019 when the Pope published his lengthy and moving message for the upcoming 105th World Day of Migrants and Refugees 2019.  Here is what he said.

  • “The most economically advanced societies are witnessing a growing trend towards extreme individualism which, combined with a utilitarian mentality and reinforced by the media, is producing a ‘globalization of indifference.’ In this scenario, migrants, refugees, displaced persons and victims of trafficking have become emblems of exclusion. In addition to the hardships that their condition entails, they are often looked down upon and considered the source of all society’s ills. That attitude is an alarm bell warning of the moral decline we will face if we continue to give ground to the throw-away culture. In fact, if it continues, anyone who does not fall within the accepted norms of physical, mental and social well-being is at risk of marginalization and exclusion.” (Emphasis added.)
  • The “presence of migrants and refugees – and of vulnerable people in general – is an invitation to recover some of those essential dimensions of our Christian existence and our humanity that risk being overlooked in a prosperous society. That is why it is not just about migrants. When we show concern for them, we also show concern for ourselves, for everyone; in taking care of them, we all grow; in listening to them, we also give voice to a part of ourselves that we may keep hidden because it is not well regarded nowadays.” (Emphasis added.)
  • “’Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid!’ (Mt14:27). It is not just about migrants: it is also about our fears. The signs of meanness we see around us heighten ‘our fear of ‘the othe,’ the unknown, the marginalized, the foreigner… We see this today in particular, faced with the arrival of migrants and refugees knocking on our door in search of protection, security and a better future. To some extent, the fear is legitimate, also because the preparation for this encounter is lacking” (Homily in Sacrofano, 15 February 2019). But the problem is not that we have doubts and fears. The problem is when they condition our way of thinking and acting to the point of making us intolerant, closed and perhaps even – without realizing it – racist. In this way, fear deprives us of the desire and the ability to encounter the other, the person different from myself; it deprives me of an opportunity to encounter the Lord.” (Emphases added.)
  • “’For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same?’ (Mt5:46). It is not just about migrants: it is about charity. Through works of charity, we demonstrate our faith (cf. Jas 2:18). And the highest form of charity is that shown to those unable to reciprocate and perhaps even to thank us in return. ‘It is also about the face we want to give to our society and about the value of each human life… The progress of our peoples… depends above all on our openness to being touched and moved by those who knock at our door. Their faces shatter and debunk all those false idols that can take over and enslave our lives; idols that promise an illusory and momentary happiness blind to the lives and sufferings of others.’” (Emphasis added.)
  • “’But a Samaritan traveler who came upon him was moved with compassion at the sight’ (Lk10:33). It is not just about migrants: it is about our humanity. Compassion motivated that Samaritan – for the Jews, a foreigner – not to pass by. Compassion is a feeling that cannot be explained on a purely rational level. Compassion strikes the most sensitive chords of our humanity, releasing a vibrant urge to ‘be a neighbor’ to all those whom we see in difficulty. As Jesus himself teaches us (cf. Mt9:35-36; 14:13-14; 15:32-37), being compassionate means recognizing the suffering of the other and taking immediate action to soothe, heal and save. To be compassionate means to make room for that tenderness which today’s society so often asks us to repress. ‘Opening ourselves to others does not lead to impoverishment, but rather enrichment, because it enables us to be more human: to recognize ourselves as participants in a greater collectivity and to understand our life as a gift for others; to see as the goal, not our own interests, but rather the good of humanity.’” (Emphasis added.)
  • “’See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father’ (Mt18:10). It is not just about migrants: it is a question of seeing that no one is excluded. Today’s world is increasingly becoming more elitist and cruel towards the excluded. Developing countries continue to be drained of their best natural and human resources for the benefit of a few privileged markets. Wars only affect some regions of the world, yet weapons of war are produced and sold in other regions which are then unwilling to take in the refugees produced by these conflicts. Those who pay the price are always the little ones, the poor, the most vulnerable, who are prevented from sitting at the table and are left with the ‘crumbs’ of the banquet (cf. Lk 16:19-21). ‘The Church which ‘goes forth’… can move forward, boldly take the initiative, go out to others, seek those who have fallen away, stand at the crossroads and welcome the outcast’ (Evangelii Gaudium, 24). A development that excludes makes the rich richer and the poor poorer. A real development, on the other hand, seeks to include all the world’s men and women, to promote their integral growth, and to show concern for coming generations.” (Emphases added.)
  • “’Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all’ (Mk10:43-44).It is not just about migrants: it is about putting the last in first place. Jesus Christ asks us not to yield to the logic of the world, which justifies injustice to others for my own gain or that of my group. ‘Me first, and then the others!’ Instead, the true motto of the Christian is, ‘The last shall be first!’ ‘An individualistic spirit is fertile soil for the growth of that kind of indifference towards our neighbors which leads to viewing them in purely economic terms, to a lack of concern for their humanity, and ultimately to feelings of fear and cynicism. Are these not the attitudes we often adopt towards the poor, the marginalized and the ‘least’ of society? And how many of these ‘least’ do we have in our societies! Among them I think primarily of migrants, with their burden of hardship and suffering, as they seek daily, often in desperation, a place to live in peace and dignity.’ In the logic of the Gospel, the last come first, and we must put ourselves at their service.” (Emphases added.)
  • “’So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God’ (Eph2:19). It is not just about migrants: it is about building the city of God and man. In our time, which can also be called the era of migration, many innocent people fall victim to the ‘great deception’ of limitless technological and consumerist development (cf. Laudato Si’, 34). As a result, they undertake a journey towards a ‘paradise’ that inevitably betrays their expectations. Their presence, at times uncomfortable, helps to debunk the myth of a progress that benefits a few while built on the exploitation of many. ‘We ourselves need to see, and then to enable others to see, that migrants and refugees do not only represent a problem to be solved, but are brothers and sisters to be welcomed, respected and loved. They are an occasion that Providence gives us to help build a more just society, a more perfect democracy, a more united country, a more fraternal world and a more open and evangelical Christian community.’” (Emphasis added.)
  • “Dear brothers and sisters, our response to the challenges posed by contemporary migration can be summed up in four verbs: welcome, protect, promote and integrate. Yet these verbs do not apply only to migrants and refugees. They describe the Church’s mission to all those living in the existential peripheries, who need to be welcomed, protected, promoted and integrated. If we put those four verbs into practice, we will help build the city of God and man. We will promote the integral human development of all people. We will also help the world community to come closer to the goals of sustainable development that it has set for itself and that, lacking such an approach, will prove difficult to achieve.” (Emphases added.)
  • “In a word, it is not only the cause of migrants that is at stake; it is not just about them, but about all of us, and about the present and future of the human family. Migrants, especially those who are most vulnerable, help us to read the ‘signs of the times.’ Through them, the Lord is calling us to conversion, to be set free from exclusivity, indifference and the throw-away culture. Through them, the Lord invites us to embrace fully our Christian life and to contribute, each according to his or her proper vocation, to the building up of a world that is more and more in accord with God’s plan.” (Emphasis added.)

September 29, 2019[2]

The second was the Pope’s Homily at Holy Mass on September 29, 2019 (the actual 105th World Day of Migrants and Refugees 2019).

The Pope said, “The Lord upholds the stranger as well as the widow and the orphan among his people. The Psalmist makes explicit mention of those persons who are especially vulnerable, often forgotten and subject to oppression. The Lord has a particular concern for foreigners, widows and orphans, for they are without rights, excluded and marginalized. This is why God tells the Israelites to give them special care.” (Emphasis added.)

“In the Book of Exodus, the Lord warns his people not to mistreat in any way widows and orphans, for he hears their cry (cf. 22:23). Deuteronomy sounds the same warning twice (cf. 24:17; 27:19), and includes strangers among this group requiring protection. The reason for that warning is explained clearly in the same book: the God of Israel is the one who ‘executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing’ (10:18). This loving care for the less privileged is presented as a characteristic trait of the God of Israel and is likewise required, as a moral duty, of all those who would belong to his people.” (Emphases added.)

That is why we must pay special attention to the strangers in our midst as well as to widows, orphans and all the outcasts of our time. In the Message for this 105th World Day of Migrants and Refugees, the theme “It is not Just about Migrants” is repeated as a refrain. And rightly so: it is not only about foreigners; it is about all those in existential peripheries who, together with migrants and refugees, are victims of the throwaway culture. The Lord calls us to practice charity towards them. He calls us to restore their humanity, as well as our own, and to leave no one behind.” (Emphases added.)

“Along with the exercise of charity, the Lord also invites us to think about the injustices that cause exclusion – and in particular the privileges of the few, who, in order to preserve their status, act to the detriment of the many. ‘Today’s world is increasingly becoming more elitist and cruel towards the excluded:’ this is a painful truth; our world is daily more and more elitist, more cruel towards the excluded. ‘Developing countries continue to be drained of their best natural and human resources for the benefit of a few privileged markets. Wars only affect some regions of the world, yet weapons of war are produced and sold in other regions which are then unwilling to take in the refugees generated by these conflicts. Those who pay the price are always the little ones, the poor, the most vulnerable, who are prevented from sitting at the table and are left with the ‘crumbs’ of the banquet.’” (Emphases added.)

“It is in this context that the harsh words of the Prophet Amos (6:1.4-7) should be understood. Woe to those who are at ease and seek pleasure in Zion, who do not worry about the ruin of God’s people, even though it is in plain sight. They do not notice the destruction of Israel because they are too busy ensuring that they can still enjoy the good life, delicious food and fine drinks. It is striking how, twenty-eight centuries later, these warnings remain as timely as ever. For today too, the ‘culture of comfort… makes us think only of ourselves, makes us insensitive to the cries of other people… which results in indifference to others; indeed, it even leads to the globalization of indifference.’” (Emphasis added.)

“In the end, we too risk becoming like that rich man in the Gospel who is unconcerned for the poor man Lazarus, ‘covered with sores, who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table’ (Lk 16:20-21). Too intent on buying elegant clothes and organizing lavish banquets, the rich man in the parable is blind to Lazarus’s suffering. Overly concerned with preserving our own well-being, we too risk being blind to our brothers and sisters in difficulty.” (Emphasis added.)

Yet, as Christians, we cannot be indifferent to the tragedy of old and new forms of poverty, to the bleak isolation, contempt and discrimination experienced by those who do not belong to ‘our’ group. We cannot remain insensitive, our hearts deadened, before the misery of so many innocent people. We must not fail to weep. We must not fail to respond. Let us ask the Lord for the grace of tears, the tears that can convert our hearts before such sins.” (Emphasis added.)

“If we want to be men and women of God, as Saint Paul urges Timothy, we must ‘keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (1 Tm 6:14). The commandment is to love God and love our neighbor; the two cannot be separated! Loving our neighbor as ourselves means being firmly committed to building a more just world, in which everyone has access to the goods of the earth, in which all can develop as individuals and as families, and in which fundamental rights and dignity are guaranteed to all.” (Emphasis added.)

Loving our neighbor means feeling compassion for the sufferings of our brothers and sisters, drawing close to them, touching their sores and sharing their stories, and thus manifesting concretely God’s tender love for them. This means being a neighbor to all those who are mistreated and abandoned on the streets of our world, soothing their wounds and bringing them to the nearest shelter, where their needs can be met.” (Emphasis added.)

“God gave this holy commandment to his people and sealed it with the blood of his Son Jesus, to be a source of blessing for all mankind. So that all together we can work to build the human family according to his original plan, revealed in Jesus Christ: all are brothers and sisters, all are sons and daughters of the same Father.”

“Today we also need a mother. So we entrust to the maternal love of Mary, Our Lady of the Way, of so many painful journeys, all migrants and refugees, together with those who live on the peripheries of our world and those who have chosen to share their journey.” (Emphasis added.)

December 25, 2019[3]

On December 25, the Pope delivered his annual Christmas Day “Urbi et Orbi” (To the City and to the World) message to the assembled faithful, pilgrims and others in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican.

The Pope prayed,  “May the Son of God, come down to earth from heaven, protect and sustain all those who, due to these and other injustices, are forced to emigrate in the hope of a secure life.  It is injustice that makes them cross deserts and seas that become cemeteries.  It is injustice that forces them to endure unspeakable forms of abuse, enslavement of every kind and torture in inhumane detention camps.  It is injustice that turns them away from places where they might have hope for a dignified life, but instead find themselves before walls of indifference.” (Emphasis added.)

The Prayer concluded with these words, “May Emmanuel bring light to all the suffering members of our human family.  May he soften our often stony and self-centered hearts, and make them channels of his love.  May he bring his smile, through our poor faces, to all the children of the world: to those who are abandoned and those who suffer violence.”

“Through our frail hands,” the Pope concluded, “may He clothe those who have nothing to wear, give bread to the hungry and heal the sick.  Through our friendship, such as it is, may He draw close to the elderly and the lonely, to migrants and the marginalized. On this joyful Christmas Day, may He bring his tenderness to all and brighten the darkness of this world.”

Conclusion

Thank you, Pope Francis, for eloquently and persistently reminding everyone of why we should welcome, protect, promote and integrate refugees and other immigrants.

Other Christian leaders have issued similar statements supporting refugees and migrants.[4] Leaders of other religious traditions, especially Judaism and Islam, are invited to add their voices in comments to this blog post.

All of these theological words also are relevant to the ongoing debate in the U.S. about whether state and local governments should consent to refugee resettlement, as discussed in previous blog posts,[5] and should be used to encourage the remaining 16 U.S. states to join the 34 other states that already have so consented.

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[1] Message of His Holiness Pope Francis for the 105th World Day of Migrants and Refugees 2019, Holy See (April 30, 2019).  Pope Francis since at least 2013 annually has composed messages for the annual World Day of Migrants and Refugees. (E.g., Message of His Holiness Pope Francis for the 104th World Day of Migrants and Refugees 2018, Holy See (Aug. 15, 2017).

[2] Homily of Pope Francis, Holy Mass on the Occasion of World Day of Migrants and Refugees, Holy See (Sept. 29, 2019).

[3]  Pope Francis, “Urbi et Orbi” Message of His Holiness Pope Francis, Holy See (Dec. 25, 2019); Pope at ‘Urbi et Orbi’ prays for the suffering children of the world, Vatican News (Dec. 25, 2019); Momigliano & Povoledo, Pope Francis, in Christmas Speech, Urges Nations to Tend to Refugees, N.Y. Times (Dec. 25, 2019);  Reuters, Pope Defends Migrants, Calls for Peace in Christmas Message, N.Y. Times (Dec. 25, 2019); Assoc. Press, Pope Offers Hope Against Darkness in Christmas Day Message, N.Y. Times (Dec. 25, 2019).

[4] E.g., PCUSA, Reflection and Prayer for World Refugee Day; Refugee Outreach, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints; World Relief and the Evangelical Immigration Table Urge Governors in 15 States to Accept Refugees (Dec. 11, 2019); An open letter regarding refugee resettlement from Minnesota’s Catholic and Lutheran bishops (Dec. 27, 2019).

[5] See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: U.S. Sets 18,000 Quota for New Refugee Admissions to U.S. for Fiscal 2020 (Nov. 4, 2019; U.S. Senators Oppose U.S.Reduction in Refugee Admissions for Fiscal 2020 (Nov. 11, 2019);Latest U.S. Struggle Over Refugees (Dec. 11, 2019); Minnesota and Minneapolis Say “Yes” to Refugees (Dec. 14, 2019); Updates on States’ Consents to Refugee Resettlement (Dec. 16, 2019); Tennessee Consents to Refugees Resettlement (Dec. 20, 2019); Another Update on States’ Consents to Refugees Resettlement (Dec. 30, 2019);  U.S. State and Local Governments’ Justifications for Consenting to Resettlement of Refugees (Dec. 31, 2019).

 

How Does Jesus See Love?

This was the question addressed in Rev. Tim Hart-Andersen’s November 10, 2019, sermon at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church and in his reflections on his gathering four days earlier with  15 other U.S. and Cuban clergy and lay leaders on a rooftop in Havana.[1]

As previously noted in this blog, Westminster has had partnerships with the Presbyterian-Reformed Church of Cuba for nearly 19 years,[2] and the purpose of the recent gathering in Havana was to meet with the leaders of the Seminario de Evangelico de Teologia (SET) and learn about their vision for establishing a facility in Havana to supplement the offerings at its main facilities in the city of Matanzas on the north coast of the island east of Havana.[3]

According to Rev. Hart-Andersen, “It’s an exciting time for the church in Cuba, full of possibility. There’s a great awakening of spiritual hunger on the island as it emerges from decades of atheism and isolation. With its unique circumstances, Cuba offers the Church a living laboratory for spreading the faith.”

“Younger Cubans have virtually no experience of Christianity. They were raised in a system that rejected religion. As a result, for our Presbyterian sisters and brothers and other Christians on the island, it’s if they were starting the church all over.”

“Differing versions of the faith are rushing in to try to fill the void. Some cling to a traditional, conservative Roman Catholicism. Others mix African-traditions with Christianity. Some proclaim an imported, privatized, prosperity gospel designed to meet individual need. And others – including our Seminary partners – pursue a gospel that seeks justice and works to transform individuals and systems.”

“We have our own competing versions of Christianity . . . [in the U.S.] There’s little consensus among us in our land about what it means to be faithful. In our country today, religion is as divided as politics – and sometimes it can be hard to tell the difference between the two.”

“Whether in Cuba or . . . [the U.S.], those seeking to live as God’s people are struggling with how to do that in our time. The old ways are not working; we need a refresher course in following Jesus. What do we do?”

The response to this question for us [in the U.S.] and for the church in Cuba comes from Jesus when He answered  the question, “What is the greatest commandment?” Jesus’ answer: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”[4]

How does Jesus see love? It has more than one dimension, and it moves in multiple directions. It starts with each individual human being, created in the image of God, each one of us a living expression of the love of God – and then moves outward, in visible ways to those near us and into our communities, and in invisible ways, to God who joins us in loving the world. It’s a trinity of love: God, neighbor, self. In choosing to follow Jesus, you and I wrestle with finding the right balance among the three – and oftentimes we find ourselves tilting in the direction of self. And we get into trouble when we do that.”

These thoughts occurred to Rev. Hart-Andersen as he and the others on a Havana rooftop sang this hymn:

“Open our eyes, Lord. Help us to see your face.

Open our eyes, Lord. Help us to see.

Open our ears, Lord. Help us to hear your voice.

Open our ears, Lord. Help us to hear.”

Said Rev. Hart-Andersen, “We looked out at the city [of Havana]  and saw its many-hued people, beginning to meet the challenges of another day in a difficult time and place. Help us to see.” We heard “the sounds of children and babies crying and car horns honking, laughter and shouts rose from the streets below to accompany our song. Help us to hear.”

“Our rooftop singing [of this song] placed the worship of God right where worship should be: in the midst of the world. We were no longer hidden and quiet behind walls. It was love of God meets love of neighbor.”

“The practice of Christianity requires a context as close to the real world as possible, and that was the real world. Love needs someone to love. A “neighbor” is not theoretical. We can’t love by staying inside these walls [of our church in Minneapolis or Havana]. . . . Loving our neighbor requires that we encounter our neighbor.”

From the Havana rooftop, “we looked into a city teeming with life, yet impoverished materially and spiritually. And as we looked, we caught a glimpse of the makings of the Beloved Community—people working together, hoping for a better future, refusing to be overwhelmed by their circumstance, wanting to be loved by one another.”

“That’s how Jesus sees love—as a community of people reconciled to God and reconciled to one another, eager to worship and ready to serve.” (Emphasis in original.)

 State Department’s Contrary Opinion of Cuban Religious Freedom[5]

This sermon also implicitly contradicts the U.S. State Department’s December 20th addition of Cuba to the Department’s  Special Watch List of countries engaging in or tolerating “severe violations of religious freedom” while not meeting all of the criteria for the worse status of Countries of Particular Concern.

The Department did not provide any purported factual basis for this action regarding Cuba even though only six  months earlier, on June 21, 2019,  the Department’s latest annual report on this subject for every country in the world had harsh, and unjustified, criticism of Cuba, but did not designate the island as a member of the “Special Watch List” or as a “Country of Particular Concern.’ [6]

Conclusion

Jesus’ reminder that we all are commanded to love God with all our heart, soul and mind and our neighbor as ourself should remind us that each of us and everyone else (and every country) often fail to meet these obligations and, therefore, need forgiveness. We need to be humble.

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[1] Westminster Presbyterian Church, Rev. Tim Hart-Andersen, Sermon: How Does Jesus See Love? (Nov. 10, 2019).

[2]  As its website says, SET is an ecumenical seminary that “was founded on October 1, 1946,” and that now “is governed by a Board of Directors, with representative, legislative, consultative and executive functions; composed of ten members of the Cuban founding Churches: Episcopal Church of Cuba (4), Presbyterian-Reformed in Cuba (4); and by a representative of the Fraternity of Baptist Churches of Cuba (1) and of the Los Amigos Church “Quakers” (1).” SET works “in the academic, ecumenical, ethical, moral and spiritual formation of those who feel called by God to exercise the ordained ministry, and other ministries in the Church, as well as in the training of the faithful who wish to serve in the work of the Lord through the broadest universal ministry of International believers, through regular and special courses, in permanent residence or through meetings, among others. We are also engaged in the development of an ethical, theological and biblical culture and, for this purpose, we are open to people who do not intend to enter the Christian ministry in any of its forms.”

[3] Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church’s Connections with Cuba, dwkcommentareis.com (Jan.13, 2015); Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church Celebrates U.S.-Cuba Reconciliation, (Jan. 4, 2015) dwkcommentaries. com (Jan. 4, 2015).

[4] Matthew 22: 34-40Mark 12: 28-31Luke 10: 25-28. This answer from Jesus quoted from the Hebrew Bible that would have been well known to the individuals asking this question: Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18.

[5]  State Dep’t, Press Statement: United States Takes Action Against Violators of Religious Freedom (Dec. 20, 2019).

[6] See State Dep’t, 2018 Report on International Religious Freedom (June 21, 2019); U.S. State Department Unfairly Criticizes Cuban Religious Freedom, dwkcommentaries.com (July 18, 2019); U.S. State Department’s Positive Assessment of Cuban Religious Freedom,  dwkcommentaries.com (Aug. 19, 2017).

 

 

 

 

 

Secretary Pompeo: The Imperfect Christian Leader

On October 11, U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo delivered a speech at the 2019 American Association of Christian Counselors World Conference in Nashville, Tennessee. He titled his remarks, “Being a Christian Leader.” [1] Below are the key parts of that speech followed by comments on ways in which he has not been such a leader.

Pompeo’s Speech

“We [all] talk to people through hard times.  We find ourselves in the middle of disputes and we seek to mediate them and try and identify their root causes.  We try to keep conflict minimized, at bay. . .  [T]he missions that you all have, it sounds a lot like the diplomacy that we at the    State Department and my team engage in every day.  .  . we’re both appealing to the hearts and minds to change behaviors.  As believers, we draw on the wisdom of God to help us get it right, to be a force for good in the life of human beings.” (Emphasis added.)

“ I want to . . . [talk] about what it means to be . . . a Christian leader in three areas.” (Emphasis added.)

“Disposition. [W]hat’s the attitude with which we approach each of these challenges? . . . How you carry yourself is the first area of Christian leadership.” Scripture calls us to be ‘transformed by the renewing of [our] minds.’  . . . I try every morning to try and get in a little bit of time with the [Bible].  I need my mind renewed with truth each day.  And part of that truth . . . is to be humble.  Proverbs says, ‘With the humble is wisdom.’” [Prov. 11:2.] (Emphasis added.)

“Every day, as Secretary of State, I get a real chance to be humble, because I get to see the great work that my team is doing . . . [and] am also confronted with highly complex problem sets, and I need wisdom to try and make the right calls.  I need to admit what I don’t know and try to learn it, to ask the questions that others might find obvious and be unembarrassed, and to accept conclusions when the facts are presented that might go against whatever preconceived notion that I might have had. Every day, as Secretary of State, I get a real chance to be humble, because I get to see the great work that my team is doing. . . [and] am also confronted with highly complex problem sets, and I need wisdom to try and make the right calls.  I need to admit what I don’t know and try to learn it, to ask the questions that others might find obvious and be unembarrassed, and to accept conclusions when the facts are presented that might go against whatever preconceived notion that I might have had. . . . wisdom comes from a humble disposition.” (Emphases added.)

Forgiveness is also important facet of disposition. We should all remember that we are imperfect servants serving a perfect God who constantly forgives us each and every day.  He keeps using us . . . to do a higher work.  And my work at the State Department, as it is for those who work alongside of me, is to serve America each and every day.” (Emphasis added.)

“Dialogue—how we speak with others– is also an important part of being a Christian leader. As the Book of James says: “’Everyone should be quick to listen, and slow to speak.’”

Speaking with foreign leaders reminds me “that sound relationships absolutely depend on open ears.  Good listening means more than just hearing; it means not rushing to judgment before you hear every side of a particular fact set.  This comes through so clearly in Proverbs, which say, ‘The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.’  Let’s make sure we understand the facts.  When we have that, we can begin to move forward and heal and solve problems.” (Emphasis added.)

After I’ve collected data, I . . . begin to speak fundamental basic, simple, small “t” truths.  Colossians talks about this.  It says, ‘Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer to each person.’” [Col. 4:6] (Emphasis added.)

Truth telling [is] what I try to do publicly as we lay down President Trump’s foreign policy to keep Americans safe and secure.” (Emphasis added.)

And I’m especially telling the truth about the dire condition of religious freedom around the world. America has a proud history of religious freedom, and we want jealously to guard it here.  But around the world, more than 80% of mankind lives in areas where religious freedom is suppressed or denied in its entirety.” (Emphasis added.)

The Secretary then commented on the absence of religious freedom in China, Iran, northern Iraq and bragged about the State Department’s Second Ministerial on International Religious Freedom.

“Making Decisions. The Bible calls us to be faithful in our stewardship of whatever it is that we have been privileged to hold onto, no matter how much or how little.  We have to be faithful in every single circumstance.” (Emphasis added.)

“International organizations will try, from time to time, to sneak language into their documents claiming that abortion is a human right.  And we’ll never accept that.”

“I pray you’ll help hurting people stay immersed in God’s Word.  By remaining humble.  By showing forgiveness.  By listening intently and carefully and thoughtfully.  By not rushing to judgment in complicated matters.  By being a faithful steward. By using your time with intentionally.”

“And I pray you’ll do these things not out of your own strength, but by relying on, as Paul says, ‘Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we are able to ask or to imagine.’”

Comments

These words are thoughtful and inspiring. But Pompeo as Secretary of State has failed to live up to his own words.

One instance, pointed out in a prior post, is his unceasing criticism of Cuba. Other such failures are his recent implicit disavowal of his May 2017 Senate testimony that Russian hackers working for the Putin government had interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign; Pompeo’s initial feigned ignorance of the infamous phone call between President Trump and the new President of Ukraine when Pompeo had actually participated in the call, as he subsequently was forced to admit; Pompeo’s implicit acceptance of the President’s illegally soliciting foreign investigation of a political rival; Pompeo’s implicit acceptance of the President’s insertion of Rudolph Giuliani as an actor in U.S. foreign policy; and Pompeo’s attempts to prevent State Department personnel from testifying in the House’s impeachment inquiry.[2]

Another failure is Pompeo’s lack of integrity, as Tom Friedman, the New York Times’ columnist, discussed in a recent column. This conclusion was justified by Friedman “because Pompeo has just violated one of the cardinal rules of American military ethics and command: You look out for your soldiers, you don’t leave your wounded on the battlefield and you certainly don’t stand mute when you know a junior officer is being railroaded by a more senior commander, if not outright shot in her back.”

That cardinal rule was violated by Pompeo’s “cowardly, slimy behavior as the leader of the State Department.” This was especially true in his failure to speak up and defend the excellent U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch. As John Sullivan, the current Deputy Secretary of State, stated at his October 30 Senate confirmation hearing to become the next U.S. Ambassador to Russia, that she had served “admirably and capably” as Ambassador to Ukraine and that he believed  that Giuliani had been “seeking to smear Ambassador Yovanovitch or have her removed.”

Pompeo, however, never said that. Instead he let her “be stabbed in the back with a Twitter knife, wielded by the president, “rather than tell Trump: ‘Sorry, Mr. President, if you fire her, I will resign. Because to do otherwise would be unjust and against my values and character — and because I would lose the loyalty of all my diplomats if I silently went along with such a travesty of justice against a distinguished 33-year veteran of the foreign service.’”

Friedman buttressed this opinion by referring to recent comments by “two now retired, longtime State Department diplomats, Aaron David Miller and Richard Sokolsky, . . . [when they said,] ‘At the very least, Pompeo enabled the smear campaign to go unchallenged, acquiesced in the Giuliani back channel effort with Ukraine and failed to say a word in defense of Bill Taylor, George Kent or Marie Yovanovitch. These are breathtaking acts of craven political cowardice and beneath the dignity of any secretary of state.’”[3]

At a November 18 press conference, a journalist challenged Pompeo on this issue: “There are a lot of questions about why you have not chosen to speak up publicly in defense of your employees, including those who testified before the impeachment inquiry.  Can you explain why you haven’t chosen to make comments in their support?” Pompeo gave the following demonstrably false response: “I always defend State Department employees.  It’s the greatest diplomatic corps in the history of the world.  Very proud of the team.”

Pompeo at this press conference also dodged pointed questions about specific foreign service officers. One asked for his opinion on President Trump’s tweet about Ambassador Yovanovitch during her testimony at the impeachment inquiry; Pompeo’s  response: “I’ll defer to the White House about particular statements and the like.  I don’t have anything else to say about the Democrats’ impeachment proceeding.” Another question was whether he thinks “Ambassador Taylor  has been an effective envoy of . . . [Ukraine] policy and if he is going to remain in his job, or if the President has lost confidence in him.” The response: “State Department’s doing a fantastic job.”[4]

Friedman believes the basic reason for this Pompeo failure to support foreign service officers is his desire “to run for president after Trump — and did not want to risk alienating Trump.” Pompeo, the self-proclaimed Christian, thereby failed to heed the warning of Mark 8:36:  “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, but lose his soul?”

Therefore, this blogger joins Friedman’s conclusion: “So it’s now clear that Pompeo had not taken an oath to defend and protect the Constitution. [Instead he] took an oath to defend and protect Donald J. Trump and Pompeo’s own future political career — above all else — and that’s exactly what he’s been doing. Shame on him.”

=============================

[1] State Dep’t, Secretary Pompeo: Being a Christian Leader (Oct. 11, 2019);  Pompeo faces criticism for giving speech on being a ‘Christian leader,’ The Christian Post (Oct. 15, 2019).

[2] Jakes, Pompeo Defends Trump’s Ukraine Conspiracy Theory, N.Y. Times (Oct. 5, 2019); Fandos, Barnes & Shear,  Former Top State Dept. Aide Tells Impeachment Investigators He Quit Over Ukraine, N.Y. Times (Oct. 16, 2019); Horowitz & Pérez-Peña, Pompeo Confirms He Listened to Trump’s Call to Ukraine President, N.Y. Times (Oct. 2, 2019); Wong & Sanger, Pompeo Faces Political Peril and Diplomats’ Revolt in Impeachment Inquiry, N.Y. Times (Nov. 6, 2019).

[3] Friedman, Mike Pompeo: Last in His Class at West Point in Integrity, N.Y. Times (Nov. 18, 2019); Miller & Sokolsky, Marie Yovanovitch got smeared, Where was Mike Pompeo?, CNN.com (Nov. 16, 2019).

[4] State Dep’t, Secretary Michael R. Pompeo Remarks to the Press (Nov. 18, 2019).

 

Secretary Pompeo Reiterates U.S. Hostility Towards Cuba

On or about November 16, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo reiterated U.S. hostility towards Cuba in an interview by Carlos Alberto Montaner, an exiled Cuban author now living in Spain. Here are the key points of that interview. [1]

“Cuba is a foreign policy priority for the Trump Administration. The President’s National Security Memorandum of June 2017, which established our policy to support the Cuban people, while holding the Cuban regime accountable both for its human rights abuses in the country and for its destabilizing interference in other parts of the region, . . . was only the beginning. Since then, we have imposed more sanctions on the Cuban regime, including the elimination of an authorization for ‘fraternization’ group trips, the impediment of US passenger and recreational vessels, such as cruise ships, yachts and private planes, to travel to Cuba, and finish the scheduled American air transport service to all Cuban airports except Havana.”

“We take these measures because the Cuban people do not benefit greatly from such exchanges, the regime does. All these actions are designed to prevent US dollars from filling the pockets of the Cuban military, the same people who repress the Cuban people in the country, support Maduro in Venezuela and are aligned with Putin in Russia.”

“Cuba’s interference in Venezuela and other countries in the region is totally unacceptable. Particularly appalling is the participation of the Cuban military and intelligence services that support the despot Maduro, in exchange for shipments of Venezuelan oil. This oil belongs to the Venezuelan people, who are suffering greatly under the economic, political and humanitarian crisis that created Maduro’s corruption and mismanagement.”

“Maduro’s use of oil to pay for the intrusion and abuse of Cuba is a large-scale robbery and is illegal under Venezuelan law.”

“We continue to look for new ways to limit this illegal exchange. The United States is currently focusing on the tools of diplomacy and sanctions to generate pressure in order to achieve a democratic transition in Venezuela. We have made more than 200 designations related to Venezuela since 2017, under the Law on the Designation of Foreign Drug Trafficking Chiefs (Kingpin Act) and several presidential orders. These actions prevent Maduro’s illegitimate regime from using the US financial system for its corrupt and socially destructive economic practices, and impose a cost on the regime for its illicit practices, human rights violations and corruption.”

“The Cuban regime has made it clear that it not only supports, but is responsible for the power abuses of the Maduro regime. The United States remains determined to actively support a peaceful transition to democracy, freedom and the rule of law in Venezuela. President Trump has said that all options are on the table in Venezuela, including the military option, but in the State Department we are currently focused on deploying all our diplomatic and economic options to support the interim president Guaidó and the National Assembly in a peaceful restoration of democracy, freedom and the rule of law.”

“Certainly, the Cuban presence can be felt throughout the region. Ecuador recently expressed concern that Cubans were interfering in its sovereign territory, and we have seen how the Cuban regime has historically interfered in Nicaragua, Bolivia and Venezuela.”

Conclusion

Cuba, like every country in the world including the U.S., is legitimately subject to criticism on some of its actions and policies. But Cuba does not deserve this unceasing criticism from the U.S. Secretary of State.

Moreover, the Secretary fails to acknowledge that hostile policies and rhetoric by the much more powerful U.S. have forced Cuba to take certain actions to protect itself, like its increasing connections with Russia. The Secretary, who claims to be a Christian, should remember, and act in accordance with, these words from the Gospel of Matthew (7: 1-5 (NRSV):

  • “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.  Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s.”

==================================

[1] Montaner, Pompeo: Washington seeks ‘new ways to limit illegal exchange’ between the regimes of Cuba and Venezuela, Diario de Cuba (Nov. 16, 2019).

 

 

U.S. at U.N. Global Call To Protect Religious Freedom

On September 23, 2019, President Donald Trump did not speak at the U.N. Summit on Climate Change. Instead, after briefly attending that session, he chaired the U.N.’s Global Call To Protect Religious Freedom meeting that was organized by the U.S.[1] After Vice President Mike Pence’s introduction, the President delivered his remarks followed by comments from Secretary of State Michael Pompeo.

 Vice President Pence’s Remarks[2]

“it is my great honor to be here today with the President of the United States to reaffirm America’s commitment to what the people of our nation have always believed: that every person is endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights.  And Americans have always believed our first freedom is the freedom of religion.”

“And there’s no better time for a meeting like this on the world stage.  As we gather here at the United Nations, more than 80 percent of the world’s population live in nations where religious freedom is threatened or banned.”

“The regime in Iran brutally persecutes Christians, Sunnis, Bahai’i, and Jews. In Iraq, Iran-backed militias terrorize Christians and Yazidis who were nearly wiped out by ISIS’s recent campaign of genocide. The Communist Party in China has arrested Christian pastors, banned the sale of Bibles, demolished churches, and imprisoned more than a million Uighurs in the Muslim population.”

“In our hemisphere, the regime of Daniel Ortega is virtually waging war on the Catholic Church in Nicaragua.  And in Venezuela, the dictator Nicolás Maduro uses anti-hate laws to prosecute clergy, even as his media cronies spread anti-Semitism by trivializing the Holocaust.”

“Communities of faith across the wider world have also faced unspeakable acts of violence in places of worship, shocking the conscience of the world.”

“In October, 11 Jews were murdered in the Tree of Life Synagogue massacre in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  In March, a gunman killed 51 Muslims at prayer in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.  And just a month later, suicide bombers murdered more than 300 Christians during Easter services at three Christian churches in Sri Lanka.”

“These attacks strike at the heart of everything free peoples hold sacred.  And the threats of religious freedom and the attacks on people of faith underscore why President Trump has taken such decisive action, since the very first days of our administration, to build and promote our nation’s proud tradition of advancing religious freedom.  And that continues today.”

“At the President’s direction, the United States created the Genocide Recovery and Persecution Response Program, and we’ve provided more than $370 million to aid ethnic minorities in faith communities persecuted by ISIS in Iraq and throughout the region.”[3]

“Earlier this year, at the President’s direction, the Secretary of State held the second annual Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, inviting more than a thousand civil society and religious leaders, in 100 different nations, to the largest event of its kind in the world.”[4]

“And last year, at the inaugural ministerial, at the President’s direction, we established the International Religious Freedom Fund, which already has received nearly $5 million in pledges and given over 435 Rapid Response Grants to those persecuted for their deeply held beliefs.  And to date, this effort has helped some 2,000 victims of religious persecution around the world.”[5]

“As the President often says, America is a nation of faith, and we will always stand for the freedom of religion of every person, of every race and every creed, to live, to work, to worship according to the dictates of their conscience.

“And today, giving evidence of his passion for religious liberty, the President will announce additional steps that the United States will take to protect religious liberty and defend people of faith around the world.”

“Today, I ask all nations to join us in this urgent moral duty.  We ask the governments of the world to honor the eternal right of every person to follow their conscience, live by their faith, and give glory to God.  The United States has a vital role in this critical mission.”

“It is my high honor and distinct privilege to introduce to you a tireless champion of the freedom of religion and people of every faith in America and around the world, the 45th President of the United States of America, President Donald Trump.”

President Trump’s Message[6]

“The United States is founded on the principle that our rights do not come from government; they come from God.  This immortal truth is proclaimed in our Declaration of Independence and enshrined in the First Amendment to our Constitution’s Bill of Rights.  Our Founders understood that no right is more fundamental to a peaceful, prosperous, and virtuous society than the right to follow one’s religious convictions.”

“Regrettably, the religious freedom enjoyed by American citizens is rare in the world.  Approximately 80 percent of the world’s population live in countries where religious liberty is threatened, restricted, or even banned.”

“As we speak, Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Yazidis, and many other people of faith are being jailed, sanctioned, tortured, and even murdered, often at the hands of their own government, simply for expressing their deeply held religious beliefs.”

“Today, with one clear voice, the United States of America calls upon the nations of the world to end religious persecution.”

“To stop the crimes against people of faith, release prisoners of conscience, repeal laws restricting freedom of religion and belief, protect the vulnerable, the defenseless, and the oppressed, America stands with believers in every country who ask only for the freedom to live according to the faith that is within their own hearts.”

“As President, protecting religious freedom is one of my highest priorities and always has been.  Last year, our Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, hosted the first-ever Ministerial to Advance International Religious Freedom. In this year’s ministerial, Secretary Pompeo announced plans to create the International Religious Freedom Alliance — an alliance of like-minded nations devoted to confronting religious persecution all around the world.[7]

“I’ve appointed a special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism.  We’re standing up for almost 250 million Christians around the world who are persecuted for their faith.  It is estimated that 11 Christians are killed every day for . . . following the teachings of Christ.”[8]

After reviewing some of the recent violence against religious people and buildings, the President said, “These evil attacks are a wound on all humanity.  We must all work together to protect communities of every faith.  We’re also urging every nation to increase the prosecution and punishment of crimes against religious communities.  There can be no greater crime than that.  This includes measures to prevent the intentional destruction of religious sites and relics.  Today, the Trump administration will dedicate an additional $25 million to protect religious freedom and religious sites and relics.”

“The United States is forming a coalition of U.S. businesses for the protection of religious freedom.  This is the first time this has been done.  This initiative will encourage the private sector to protect people of all faiths in the workplace.  And the private sector has brilliant leadership.  And that’s why some of the people in this room are among the most successful men and women on Earth.  They know how things get done and they know how to take care of things.”

“ I want to once again thank all of the survivors in the room for their courage and resilience.  You’re an inspiration to the world.  You remind us that no force on Earth is stronger than the faith of religious believers.  The United States of America will forever remain at your side and the side of all who seek religious freedom.”

“Today, I ask all nations to join us in this urgent moral duty.  We ask the governments of the world to honor the eternal right of every person to follow their conscience, live by their faith, and give glory to God.  The United States has a vital role in this critical mission.”

“It is my high honor and distinct privilege to introduce to you a tireless champion of the freedom of religion and people of every faith in America and around the world, the 45th President of the United States of America, President Donald Trump.”

Secretary Pompeo’s Remarks[9]

After thanking the many world leaders at the meeting, Vice President Pence and President Trump, Pompeo said, “The Bible says that ‘Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise,  think about these things.’ [Bible, Philippians 4:8 (NRSV)]] And that’s what we are all doing here today.

“As you heard, religious freedom is under threat all around the world.” He then introduced  three individuals who talked about “their struggles on behalf of this first freedom, this important and unalienable right:” Dabrina Bet-Tamraz (Iran), rabbi Faiz Algaradi (Yemen) and Jewher Ilham (China).

Pompeo closed by mentioning “the International Religious Freedom Alliance the State Department announced in July. It is the most ambitious human rights project launched in a generation. We aim to bring together like-minded countries, faith leaders, civil society groups, and international organizations around the world to promote religious freedom in a more consistent, organized, and powerful way. The foundation of the alliance is Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which begins, ‘Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion.’”

“So if you’re a country that takes human rights seriously, understanding its many benefits for peace, security, and prosperity, please come join us. If you’re a country that stands for human dignity and for freedom of conscience, please come join us. And if you’re a leader simply moved by the stories you’ve heard from these brave survivors today, come join us. Turn your sympathy for them into freedom for others. Please reach out to our Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback.”

“The United Nations is only as strong as its sovereign members determine it will be. Our belief in our principles is only as strong as our confidence to express them. I ask – indeed, I pray – that you will help be a voice for the voiceless by joining the International Religious Freedom Alliance. May God bless the survivors who are here with us today, may God bless the United States of America, and may God bless the nations who have gathered with us here this morning.”

Conclusion

Since the U.S. chose not to attend the U.N. Climate Change Summit, the U.S. possibly believed that it needed to organize another event at the U.N. that day so that it did not appear that the U.S. was avoiding the U.N. and instead that the U.S. had some positive news coverage. It also is another event consistent with the State Department’s Commission on Unalienable Rights.

The basics of the Global Call To Protect Religious Freedom are laudable, and it also is true that there is religious persecution in the world today. However, the unspoken political motivation of this presidential administration—appealing to its evangelical Christian supporters—also is apparent, and Democrats need to be cautious in criticizing this event.

===================================

[1] Liptak, Trump will hold session on religious persecution instead of attending UN climate summit, CNN (Sept. 21, 2019).

[2] White House, Remarks by Vice President Pence at the United Nations Event on Religious Freedom/New York, NY (Sept. 23, 2019).

[3] White House, Remarks by Vice President Pence at Ministerial To Advance Religious Freedom (July 26, 2018).

[4] U.S. State Department’s Second Ministerial To Advance Religious Freedom, dwkcommentaries.com (July 21, 2019).

[5]  State Department’s First Ministerial To Advance Religious Freedom, dwkcommentaries.com (July 7, 2019).

[6] White House, Remarks by President Trump at the United Nations Event on Religious Freedom/New York, NY (Sept. 23, 2019).

[7] E.g., Banks, As religious freedom summit ends, State Department announces new alliance, sanctions, Nat’l Cath. Reporter (July 19, 2019)

[8]  State Dep’t, About Us—Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism.

[9] State Dep’t, Secretary Michael R. Pompeo at the United Nations Event on Religious Freedom (Sept. 23, 2019). h

Examination of the Actions of EchoCuba (a U.S. Nonprofit)

The Evangelical Christian Humanitarian Outreach for Cuba (ECHO Cuba), a U.S. nonprofit organization, has emerged as one that calls for close examination by U.S. citizens interested in U.S.-Cuba normalization and reconciliation. EchoCuba is active in Cuba, including successful public opposition to a provision of the then proposed new Cuban constitution and commenting on other controversial Cuban issues. It has received significant financial support from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Finally EchoCuba has been used by the State Department as one of only two primary sources for the department’s most recent (and critical) annual report on Cuban religious freedom. These activities have not yet received the serious attention that they deserve. This blog post endeavors to start that examination.

ECHOCuba’s Background [1]

The organization was founded in 1994 by Cuban-American Teo Babún. Soon thereafter it was denounced in the Cuban TV news series “Razones de Cuba” for promoting subversion on the island, with funding from the U.S. government, by publishing counterrevolutionary blogs and printed propaganda and by hosting public events.

Granma, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of Cuba, has reported that Senor Babún and his family before the triumph of the Revolution “owned the second largest sugarmill in the eastern part of [Cuba]; the Diamante construction company; a cement factory; the Sevilla estate; and the Santiago de Cuba ship line.” After 1959, however, he and his family left the island for Miami, where he made connections with the “annexionist” mafia [Cuban exiles], supported the U.S.-organized mercenary invasion of Play Girón [Bay of Pigs in 1961] and a subsequent terrorist attack on the coastal town of Boca de Samá in 1971.

A noted Cuban intellectual and historian, Nestor Garcia Iturbe, added that Senor Babún is (or was) the executive director of Americas Humanitarian Relief Logistics Team, Inc. (ART) , which says that it “provides aid to hurting people in the Americas” and “disaster response assistance throughout the Americas” as well as partnering with the U.S. Navy’s Southern Command and with “USAID and UN/OCHA through the U.N. Humanitarian System.” Indeed, Garcia says this organization also is a recipient of USAID fund. Another organization created by Babún was the Claims Register Assistance to aid persons who wanted to file claims in the 1960s with the U.S. Department of Justice for their Cuban properties that had been expropriated by the Fidel Castro regime.

The current website for EchoCuba states that its mission is “to equip and strengthen the independent evangelical churches of Cuba through theological education and leadership training of their existing and future pastors. . . . Since the early 1990s, . . . [it] has existed to advocate faith and freedoms in Cuba through a vast network of mostly . . . Protestant and Roman Catholic churches who have promoted Christian education, humanitarian aid, and small business initiatives.”

EchoCuba says in 2002 it “cooperated with different foundations and organizations  in distributing humanitarian assistance and training manuals on carrying out social and human services, such as caring for the elderly, disabled, and malnourished children. It also has aided in reaching out to the most marginalized pockets of Cuba’s populations, including the families of those persecuted by the communist regime for their beliefs and ideals.”

“Today [date not specified] we embark on a new chapter . . . [to focus on] the development of effective Christian leadership to promote Biblical truth while transforming communities. . . [and empowering] the in We collaborate with local leaders, seminaries and communities in the island to bring the Gospel to the masses.”

Yet another of its activities is “faith-based advocacy.” It correctly notes that Cuba was an “atheist state” and that during that period Christians suffered. It also claims that freedom of religion today on the island is “not fully available, and persecution of those who publicly profess a creed exists today.” [This statement is true for the period 1959-1992], but misleading on the years since then.]

EchoCuba also participates in the First Frontier Cuba Network, which “serves as a convening platform, which stewards and directs the investment of North American resources, time, energy and manpower wisely to directly respond to the continuing needs of the Cuban Church. [This Network] has been created to provide consultation and leadership to catalyze the right kind of change in Cuba, without harm, confusion, and fragmentation; and to be the voice of Cuban missiology that guides ministry action towards long-term and productive change for the Kingdom of God.”

The final activity listed on its website is “fighting Biblical poverty.” It claims in the last two decades, “Christianity has grown in Cuba in an unprecedented rate. With a population of 11 million, and only 10%-20% of that population being active Christians, the demand for Bibles is unlike any other point in history. For most Christians in Cuba, they feel isolated from the world. The government and its last of freedom restrict the ability of Christians to access the outside world through literature, internet, television even the distribution of Christian material including the Sword of God [the Bible]. In Cuba there are no places to buy or print Bibles on the island. However God always opens doors. Recently, easing of tensions between the United States and Cuba [with President Obama’s December 2014 opening to Cuba] after fifty years offers an unprecedented opportunity for the Church to receive bibles from international organizations like EchoCuba. Now, you can help Cubans discover the life and love of Jesus found in God’s Word. EchoCuba has vowed to bring the Gospel any way it can to God’s faithful servants in Cuba.”

The website also claims that “Churches in Cuba are not legally allowed to be constructed, [thereby forcing] God’s people . . . to operate through house churches, which hold no legal recognition from the government. Cuba has over 25,000 house churches on the island. The average house church holds an average of 20 to 40 members, on average only 5-10 bibles are available for the entire congregation. We believe that by providing Church leaders and seminarians with Bible and Scripture resources, even more people will experience the transformative power of God’s love for all of us. Our 2015 goal is to provide 5,000 bibles to Churches in Cuba.”

EchoCuba also is a member, since November 2007, of EFCA, which “provides accreditation to leading Christian nonprofit organizations that faithfully demonstrate compliance with established standards for financial accountability.”

EchoCuba’s Financial Support by USAID [2]

Although it is not mentioned on EchoCuba’s website, USAID, for fiscal 2009-2017, paid $2,302,464 to EchoCuba. Of this total, $1,033,582 was “for a three-year program entitled ‘Empowering Civil Society by Strengthening Economic Independence.’” Another $1,179,066 was for the Cuba Humanitarian Support Network, which was “aimed at providing “humanitarian aid to Cuba’s vulnerable religious leaders” and creating a “humanitarian network for the sustainable delivery of essential food and health supplies to marginalized Cubans and their family members.” In addition, EchoCuba to date has received at least $1,003,674 from USAID during the Trump presidency.

ECHOCuba’s Recent Activities in Cuba [3]

In late 2018, some Cuban evangelical churches, encouraged by EchoCuba and other U.S. conservative evangelical churches and organizations, registered strong objections to a provision of the proposed new Cuban Constitution that would have legalized same-sex marriage. According to Andrew Chestnut, Professor of Religious Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, ““Both the moral and financial support of U.S. Evangelical denominations and agencies has been crucial to backing Cuban Evangelicals in their campaign to oppose gay marriage on the island.”

In response, in December 2018, the Cuban government withdrew that provision before the new constitution was approved in a national referendum.

This year, Cuban evangelical churches and groups, with the support of similar groups in the U.S., objected to Cuba’s version of a gay pride parade in May, resulting in its cancelation by the organizers of the event.

In July 2019, EchoCuba was involved in the creation of the Evangelical Alliance of Cuban Churches  as separate from the longstanding Cuban Council of Churches (CIC) on the ground that the latter did not represent their beliefs, including opposition to same-sex marriage. According to Elaine Saralegui Caraballo, a lesbian pastor and founder of a Cuban division of the Metropolitan Community Church, said, “The creation of this Alliance fosters a space of unity, from which the whole economic, spiritual, religious, and political force of the Christian fundamentalist churches will be deployed” and that the Alliance’s goal was to promote “Christian supremacy” with the guidance of the U.S. far right, in a similar manner as has occurred in other Latin American countries.”

EchoCuba as Source for State Department on Cuban Religious Freedom [4]

The latest State Department’s report on international religious freedom that was released in June 2019 contained many adverse allegations about that freedom in Cuba with only two principal stated sources, one of which was EchoCuba (without any disclosure about its funding by USAID).

That report contained the following statements about the evangelical or apostolic churches:

  • “There are approximately 4,000 followers of 50 Apostolic churches (an unregistered loosely affiliated network of Protestant churches, also known as the Apostolic Movement) and a separate New Apostolic Church associated with the New Apostolic Church International.  According to some Christian leaders, there is a marked growth of evangelical Protestant groups in the country.”
  • “According to EchoCuba, the ORA [Communist Party’s’ Office of Religious Affairs] approved some registration applications, but it took as many as two to three years from the date of the application.  Other applications received no response or were denied without explanation, while some groups continued to wait for up to 25 years for a response.  EchoCuba said Apostolic churches repeatedly had their attempts to register denied, forcing these churches to operate without legal status.”
  • “In October leaders of Apostolic churches including Bernardo de Quesada, Alain Toledanos, and Marco Antonio Perdomo, issued an official statement on behalf of non-registered groups, which they said are ‘in practice discriminated against,’ urging the government to establish a new statute formally defining and granting the right to, and laying out procedures for, legal registration of religious organizations by the MOJ [Ministry of Justice].  The ORA and the MOJ did not announce any progress on revising the law on associations, announced in August 2017.”
  • “In March the New Apostolic Church, not affiliated with the many loosely affiliated Apostolic churches, registered with the MOJ.”
  • “According to EchoCuba, the government continued to apply its system of rewarding churches that were obedient and sympathetic to “revolutionary values and ideals” and penalizing those that were not.  Similarly, the government continued to reward religious leaders who were cooperative with the government and threatened revocation of those rights for noncooperative religious leaders.  EchoCuba reported that, in exchange for their cooperation with the government, CCC members continued to receive benefits other non-member churches did not always receive, including building permits, international donations of clothing and medicine, and exit visas for pastors to travel abroad.  EchoCuba said individual churches and denominations or religious groups also experienced different levels of consideration by the government depending on the leadership of those groups and their relationship with the government.”
  • “According to EchoCuba, the government continued to single out religious groups critical of the government, such as the unregistered Apostolic Movement, for particularly severe persecution, destroying their churches, confiscating properties, and banning travel of their pastors.  In contrast, the government allowed The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also unregistered, to operate with little intervention because the Church continued to maintain a close relationship with the government and did not question the country’s laws.  Some religious leaders said the government continued to grant permits to buy properties for use as house churches, including in some cases when the titleholder to the property did not plan to live there.  Other religious groups said securing permission for the purchase or construction of new buildings remained difficult, if not impossible.”
  • “According to EchoCuba, government agencies regularly refused to recognize a change in residence for pastors and other church leaders assigned to a new church or parish.  A decree continued to place restrictions on internal movement and migration, making it difficult, if not impossible, for pastors and their families to register their new place of residence if they transferred to a church that lost its pastor due to death or retirement.  To engage with even the smallest of bureaucratic details, pastors refused the right to reregister needed to travel to wherever they were officially registered and submit the paperwork there.  Legal restrictions on travel within the country also limited itinerant ministry, a central component of some religious groups.  According to EchoCuba, the application of the decree to religious groups was likely part of the general pattern of government efforts to control their activities.  Some religious leaders said the decree was also used to block church leaders from travelling within the country to attend special events or meetings.  Church leaders associated with the Apostolic churches regularly reported they were prevented, sometimes through short-term detention, from travelling to attend church events or carry out ministry work.”

As pointed out in a prior post, this State Department report made only the following reference to the Cuban Council of Churches (CIC): ““Embassy officials met with the head of the Council of Cuban Churches, a government-registered organization with close ties to the government composed mostly of Protestant groups and associated with the World Council of Churches, to discuss its operations and programs.” (Exec. Summary.)

Criticism of U.S. Report on Cuban Religious Freedom [5]

This report’s ever so brief reference to the CIC, in this blogger’s judgment, is a major flaw in the U.S. report as the CIC was founded in 1941 and describes itself as “an ecumenical fellowship of churches and other Cuban Christian institutions, which confess the Lord Jesus Christ as God and Savior, in accordance with the Scriptures and seek to realize their common vocation for the Glory of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The CIC promotes spaces for encounter, celebration, reflection, formation and joint actions of the churches and other Christian institutions, for the service to our people, as a visible expression of the ecumenism to which we are called by God in Jesus Christ.” Today the CIC’s membership includes 28 denominations, 10 fraternal associations and 14 ecumenical movements and centers.

Relevant here is CIC’s statement (on or about July 17, 2019) in response to the announced intent to create the previously mentioned Evangelical Alliance if Cuban Churches. “We want to reiterate to our people and their churches that the . . . [CIC], as it affirms in its Constitution, works under its motto ‘United to Serve‘ which states:

  • ‘We are a fellowship of churches, ecumenical movements and other Christian institutions that confess the Lord Jesus Christ as Son of God and Savior, according to the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, and seek to realize their common vocation, the glory of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.’
  • ‘Our mission is to provide spaces for meeting, celebration, reflection and formation of churches, ecumenical movements and other Christian institutions, as a visible expression of the unity to which God calls us in Jesus Christ, in the service of our people.’
  • ‘Encouraging the study, consultation and different areas of service in accordance with its purposes and functions; the cooperation of Christians in order to strengthen fraternal relations; enrich Christian life and witness; develop a sense of social responsibility and encourage participation in tasks of common interest for the evangelizing mission of the Church.’
  • ‘The Council, without authority over its members to determine issues of doctrine, government or worship, could be a mediating instance, provided that peace and goodness of the Body of Christ is sought, based on the best testimony to the world: the unity of the believers.’

Therefore, the CIC statement continued, “It is not for the [CIC], to rule on doctrinal issues that have been put on the public stage, nor to represent on this or any other issue, before the Cuban people and its authorities, the churches and organizations , members or not.” It then added the following:

  • “In Cuba all denominations enjoy religious freedom and are equal before the law, therefore each church or religious organization establishes the relations it deems with the authorities, and gives testimony before them and the Cuban people as understood from their understanding of the Faith.” (Emphasis added.)
  • “The Council of Churches, in adherence to the values ​​that its Constitution proclaims and in its vocation of service, has carried out mediating efforts since its foundation. And it has done so by sovereign decision of its members, from its governing bodies, without supplanting it, any rights of others.”
  • “On the contrary, in most cases, these efforts have benefited not only the churches and member organizations of the CIC, and in some, all the religious denominations and their practitioners on the island. Suffice it to mention the import and distribution of Bibles, and in the early 90s, their decisive contribution in the cessation of all forms of religious discrimination in Cuba.”
  • “God calls for unity in Christ our Lord, to serve and bear witness to the Gospel. Since its foundation 78 years ago, the . . . [CIC] has shown its fidelity to this call. Our fidelity is only to Jesus Christ, our Lord. There is no other Lord, neither here in our beloved Homeland, nor outside it, to which we MUST serve and adore.”
  • “The . . . [CIC] reaffirms its commitment to continue working for the unity of the churches. Serving the people and the nation, seeking together and together the paths of peace, faith and hope, the dignity of the people and the care of Creation, that help us to build and live the signs of the Kingdom of God: equality and love for all and all in the midst of our beloved country.”

Personal Testimony [6]

As a member of Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church, which for the last 17 years has had a partnership with a sister church in Cuba, I have been on three mission trips to the island to visit our partner and other churches and the office of the CIC. I also have welcomed Cuban visitors to our church in Minneapolis, have discussed other members’ trips to the island, have read widely about many aspects of Cuban-U.S. history and have written many blog posts criticizing hostile U.S. policies and actions against Cuba and encouraging reconciliation and normalization of relations. As a result I now have many Cuban-Presbyterian friends and can testify that these churches and members as well as the CIC enjoy many aspects of religious freedom and embrace a warm and loving Christian faith.

Therefore, it is totally illegitimate for the State Department virtually to ignore the faith and work of these churches and members and of the CIC. It also is illegitimate for the Department and others in the U.S. government implicitly to assume that some U.S. notions of religious freedom should apply to Cuba without considering the vast differences in economic circumstances. This especially is true with respect to building new church buildings. Like the U.S., construction permits are needed in Cuba for new buildings, religious and otherwise. That does not make such construction illegal, as is claimed in the previously mentioned State Department report. Moreover, the granting of such permits in Cuba is inhibited by limitations on the island’s financial resources.

Although I did not visit Cuba during the period of its close relationship with the Soviet Union, until 1992, it is true that Christians and other religious people were discriminated against. However, Cuba did not assassinate or disappear religious opponents of the regime as was done by the right-wing government of El Salvador in the 1980’s. On one of my trips to our partner church on the island, one of the members told me that she had not been brave enough to have been a Christian during those prior years. Another member told me that he had been in seminary with the pastor of our partner, but he had left the Cuban church in order to become a public school teacher. Now that he was retired, he again freely could attend church.

After the 1989 collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba adopted a more conciliatory position towards religion and lessened its promotion of atheism. In November 1991 the Communist Party began to allow believers into its ranks, and in July 1992, the constitution was amended to remove the definition of Cuba as being a state based on Marxism–Leninism, and article 42 was added, which prohibited discrimination on the basis of religious belief. Another important change after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the increased acceptance of religion in Cuba, several Protestant pastors became members of the National Assembly, two of whom I have met: Rev. Sergio Arce, a Presbyterian-Reformed pastor, and Rev. Raúl Suarez, a Baptist pastor.[ii]

In 2004 the first Greek Orthodox Cathedral opened in Havana; shortly thereafter I visited the island and saw flags welcoming Greek Orthodox Archbishop Bartholomew to the city while my Presbyterian delegation delivered an icon to the new Cathedral from a Minneapolis’ Greek Orthodox Church. Four years later, in 2008, the first Russian Orthodox Church was opened in Havana during an official ceremony attended by then President Raúl Castro. Three Popes have visited the island: Pope John Paul II (1998), Pope Benedict XVI (2012) and Pope Francis (2015).[iii]

Nevertheless, it must be noted that upon the recent appointment of Monsignor Juan de la Caridad as the new Roman Catholic Archbishop of Havana, the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Cuba lamented that the Catholic Church on the island does not have schools, universities, newspapers, radio stations or welfare centers while less than 3% of the population attends Sunday Mass even though at least half confess being of that faith.[iv]

The recent State Department report on Cuban religious freedom also blindly accepts assertions by EchoCuba and Christian Solidarity Worldwide about alleged Cuban discrimination and persecution of various evangelical churches, especially when at least EchoCuba receives USAID funds. The U.S. government should not forget or ignore that the State Department and USAID over the years have helped finance so-called U.S. “democracy promotion” efforts on the island that in reality were efforts at “regime change.” As a result, it is reasonable for Cuba to exercise close surveillance of the activities of such organizations.

Conclusion [7]

As someone who strives to follow Jesus as a member of a Presbyterian Church, I am glad to see the U.S. emphasizing the importance of religious freedom around the world. However, given the upcoming 2020 U.S. presidential election and the support for Trump in the last election by many U.S. evangelical leaders and groups, one has to wonder whether current U.S. hostility towards Cuba and the Trump Administration programs like the new U.S. Commission on Unalienable Rights and the first two of promised annual Ministerials on International Religious Freedom are really designed to solidify that U.S. domestic political support for the re-election of Donald Trump.

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[1] EchoCuba; Castro Morales, Who is Teo Babún and why is he going after Cuba? Granma (Feb. 21, 2019); Sanchez, The ‘charity’ made in Miami and the strange faith of ECHOCuba, The Insomniac Pupil (April 18, 2011); ECFA, ECHOCuba.

[2] Eaton, God, USAID and Cuba, Cuba Money Project (Nov. 20, 2018); Eaton, Cuba spending under Trump, Cuba Money Project (June 17, 2019); Eaton, Lawmakers want $20 million for Cuba projects in 2020, Cuba Money Project (June 21, 2019;); AmericasReliefTeam, Cuban Humanitarian Support Network. The Cuba Money Project is a U.S. “journalism initiative aimed at reporting stories about U.S. government programs and projects related to Cuba” that is operated by Tracey Eaton, a journalist and former Havana bureau chief for the Dallas Morning News.

[3] Bodenheimer, How American Evangelicals Helped Stop Same-Sex Marriage in Cuba, VICE (April 20, 2019)

[4] State Dep’t, 2018 Report on International Religious Freedom: Cuba (June 21, 2019); State Department’s Latest Report on International Religious Freedom, dwkcommentaries.com (June 25, 2019); U.S. State Department Unfairly Criticizes Cuban Religious Freedom, dwkcommenaries.com (July 18, 2019).

[5] Background on the Cuban Council of Churches; World Council of Churches, Cuban Council of Churches; Joint Statement of the Cuban Council of Churches and the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA (Apr. 25, 2019); Larkman, Cuba contingent hopes to further partnership between U.S., Cuban churches (Nov. 13, 2017); Reformed Presbyterian Church in Cuba, Wikipedia

[6] E.g., Praise God for Leading U.S. and Cuba to Reconciliation, dwkcommentareis.com (Dec. 22, 2014); The Cuban Revolution and Religion, dwkcommentaries.com (Dec. 30, 2011); posts listed in the “Pope Francis Visits to Cuba & U.S., 2015” section of List of Post to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA; Bishops lament that the Catholic church lacks a ‘massive social presence in Cuba,’ Diario de Cuba (Sept. 3, 2019).

[7] See posts  to dwkcommentaries about the Commission on Unalienable Rights; U.S. State Department’s First Ministerial To Advance Religious Freedom, dwkcommentries.com  (July 7, 2019); U.S. State Department’s Second Ministerial To Advance Religious Freedom , dwkcommentaries.com(July 21, 2019); Realpolitik Analysis of U.S. Ministerial To Advance Religious Liberty and U.S. Commission on Unalienable Rights (July 23, 2019).