‘Global Respect Act’ Disrespects Religious Liberty, Free Speech Rights

Grace Melton | January 10, 2022 | 10:21am EST
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The Global Respect Act could result in Pope Francis' teachings on sexuality and marriage to constitute "cruel treatment." (Photo credit: FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP via Getty Images)
The Global Respect Act could result in Pope Francis' teachings on sexuality and marriage to constitute "cruel treatment." (Photo credit: FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP via Getty Images)

The House of Representatives is preparing to vote on the so-called Global Respect Act, which would impose sanctions on foreigners, including private citizens, who are determined to be responsible for human rights violations against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex individuals. 

While the concept sounds positive (after all, who wants to see anyone’s human rights violated?), in fact, this bill is part of an ongoing campaign by the left to commit the U.S. government to advance gender ideologydeprioritizing religious freedom and the free speech rights of those who think outside an increasingly radical, woke framework. 

President Joe Biden committed the U.S. government in 2021 to do just that in any work the U.S. undertakes abroad and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s decision to bring this bill to a vote is the next step.

Congress should reject the Global Respect Act. It undermines religious liberty and freedom of speech by advancing a far-left, controversial gender ideology that amounts to ideological colonialism against countries and cultures that uphold traditional beliefs. And it risks undermining the foundations of the human rights system long supported by America and freedom lovers around the world by replacing a vision of unalienable rights available to everyone with one rooted in identity politics. 

It’s also unnecessary. 

The Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act and other human rights statutes already provide for imposing visa restrictions and other sanctions on international human rights violators, regardless of the abusers’ rationale for committing abuses.

Moreover, the U.S. has ratified the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which since 1948 has specifically guaranteed in Article 18 “the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion,” which includes the freedom “to manifest [one’s] religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship, and observance.”

The Global Respect Act would therefore be duplicative and needlessly create conflict with religious liberty and freedom of expression considerations.

The U.S. has long supported international religious freedom, including in the 1998 bipartisan passage and continued support of the International Religious Freedom Act. That commitment would be undermined if the House were to pass the Global Respect Act next week.

That’s because not far beneath the surface of the left’s approach to human rights is a profound intolerance of biblical or other traditional religions, particularly with respect to how those faith traditions view human sexuality. 

For many progressives, the belief that marriage is solely the union of one man and one woman is considered discriminatory or “homophobic,” and the conviction that there are only two biological sexes is narrow-minded or “transphobic.”

But Orthodox Christians, Jews, and Muslims have professed those beliefs for millennia. And now, when they publicly express such views, they are accused of intolerance, discrimination, and even hate speech.

Increasingly, the left is attempting to use the legal system as a weapon to force individuals to endorse a woke orthodoxy against their conscience.

Internationally, voices are calling for the criminalization of speech that doesn’t align with the left’s ideological-purity tests for how to talk about families, human biology, or sexual morality.

For example, last year, a U.N. independent expert, Victor Madrigal-Borloz, issued a report calling for countries to apply the legal framework of hate speech and hate crimes in order to promote “rights related to gender and sexuality, comprehensive gender and sexuality education, bodily autonomy, sexual and reproductive rights, and legal recognition of gender identity.” 

The Global Respect Act creates an opportunity for leftist activists to use the U.S. government to target political and ideological opponents. The bill’s broad language and lack of protections to safeguard religious liberty and freedom of speech invite ample opportunities for abuse.

In a world where even “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling can be attacked for observing the potential for gender ideology to hurt women, it is not a stretch to imagine that the legislation’s undefined terms, such as “complicity,” “inciting,” and “cruel” or “degrading” treatment, could be applied to pastors, rabbis, or imams preaching against what their faiths consider to be sexual sins. Or against a concerned mother seeking to protect her gender-dysphoric child from a school’s or medical authorities’ attempts to “transition” him or her away from his or her biological sex.

Even Pope Francis’ explanation of the Catholic Church’s teachings on marriage and sexuality could be considered by some to be “cruel treatment” under this legislation. Would the bill’s sponsors want to deny him a visa to enter the United States?

Creating or recognizing rights based on membership in special identity groups erodes America’s long-held understanding that foundational principles of equality and universality underpin human rights.

While the Global Respect Act refers to “internationally recognized human rights,” international law is largely silent on special rights awarded on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, such as same-sex marriage or adoption.

However, the left continues its efforts to redefine and reinterpret existing human rights treatiesincluding at the U.N.

The U.S. should not ignore the plight of individuals who suffer violence or cruelty at the hands of governments in any circumstance, but laws already exist to address those situations. U.S. policy should maintain that existing approach, which protects individual human rights, including the rights to religious freedom and freedom of speech.

Congress should reject the idea that America needs the Global Respect Act to respect human rights around the globe. 

Grace Melton is The Heritage Foundation's senior associate for social issues at the United Nations. She is part of the think tank's DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society.

Editor's Note: This piece originally appeared on The Daily Signal.

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