When the Trump administration talks about religious freedom, it means only one thing: freedom as defined by its conservative Christian base.
So without a jot of irony, the administration that has engaged in wholesale condemnation of every Muslim in the world is hosting a religious freedom summit, hosted by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
The summit–formally titled the Minsterial to Advance Religious Freedom– is another example of how the religious right is calling the shots in the Trump White House. The event, which runs Tuesday through Thursday, promises to be high-profile and high-wattage. Top officials from 80 nations are scheduled to attend, and Vice President Mike Pence will be giving an address.
Not surprisingly, the summit will be focusing on persecution of Christians, a real problem in other areas of the world. However, Christians aren’t the only ones targeted for their faith, as Trump’s travel ban highlighted.
Religious right leaders are over the moon about the summit. “The importance of this is to send a very strong message that America is once again concerned about religious freedom,” Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, told Politico.
While Perkins and others are careful to talk about religious freedom, there’s no doubt that it also includes religious liberty, the concept they are promoting to deny protections to LGBTQ people.
Perkins is a member of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, which advises the government on religious issues. Although the commission is bipartisan, a majority of whose members are closely tied to the religious right, including Gary Bauer, Johnnie Moore, and Kristina Arriaga.
With that cast of characters, who have built careers attacking LGBTQ rights, oppression of LGBTQ people will definitely figure into the summit.
Religious right leaders are explicitly linking religious oppression overseas with their own domestic agenda. Perkins says that the summit proves “this issue of religious freedom, both domestically and from a foreign policy standpoint, is a priority for this administration.”
The administration is hardly masking its agreement.
Pompeo provided a quote for Perkins’ press release, even though FRC has been branded a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Pompeo also appeared on FRC’s radio show to promote the event. Pompeo is himself a conservative Christian with a track record of opposing LGBTQ rights.
The summit is a nice distraction for Pompeo, who is dealing with failed talks with North Korea and the fallout from Trump’s capitulation to Vladimir Putin in Helsinki. Still, the religious right’s love of Russia will shadow the event. Pompeo said on Monday that he’s “hopeful” that Russia will aid in promoting religious freedom.
The summit is also comes in handy for the religious right, which is wiping egg off its face for its embrace of alleged Russian spy Maria Buttina, who was indicted last week. Instead of having to address its own weird affection for Putin, the conservative Christian movement can revel in how it is making the rest of the world safe for churches–but only its own.