The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, USCIRF, recently published the US State Department’s 2018 International Religious Freedom Report on 21st of June. This report made strong claims against religious freedoms in India and also questioned Indian laws curbing illegitimate foreign funding of NGOs. This report has been outright rejected by the government of India and has infuriated Indians who have expressed their condemnations on social media. The report is outrageously deceptive and raises many questions on the credibility of the USCIRF, a US federal government institution. Some of the Commissioners of the USCIRF are evangelists, out of which the most prominent face is that of Tony Perkins, a far-right evangelist who is never a mile away from controversy in the United States.
The report says, “Religious freedom has come under attack in recent years with the growth of exclusionary extremist narratives” and claimed that “government’s allowance and encouragement of mob violence against religious minorities…have facilitated an egregious and ongoing campaign of violence, intimidation, and harassment against non-Hindu and lower-caste Hindu minorities.”
The report comes out as biased and vindictive, a point which has been raised by even one of the commissioners of the USCIRF, Tenzin Dorjee as well. “I respectfully dissent on the views that India’s religious freedom conditions continued on a downward trend, the government allowed and encouraged mob violence against religious minorities, and some states are involved in “systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom.” India is an open society with a robust democratic and judiciary system.”
The Religious Freedom Report also raises questions on Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) which was introduced by the Indian Government to improve transparency in the funding processes of NGOs. Under Modi Government the freedom with which many corrupt NGOs carried out malpractices in India, from misleading the poor to forced conversions and misappropriation of funds, witnessed a down-trend with the implementation of the FCRA and it appears that this did not sit down well with the zealous evangelists seated in the commission.
The USCIRF is aimed at reviewing religious freedoms internationally and making policy recommendations to the US President, the Secretary of State and the US Congress. The Commissioners are appointed by members of the Senate and the House of Representatives. In 2018, three evangelicals were appointed into the commission among whom Tony Perkins topped the list when it came to inviting outrage. The far-right evangelist who has deep connections with the radical white supremacist Ku Klux Klan, is unabashedly hateful towards non-Christians including Hindus and Muslims, African-Americans and the LGBT community.
When in 2007, Rajan Zed offered a Hindu prayer, in a first, before the US Senate, it was protested by hardline Christians. At that time Tony Perkins had said, “No one can legitimately challenge the fact that the God America refers to in the national motto and other places is the monotheistic God of the Jewish and Christian faith. There is no historic connection between America and the polytheistic creed of the Hindu faith.”
Tony Perkins had made headlines again when he spoke against a US Marines Yoga and Meditation Program aimed at preventing incidents of PTSD among soldiers. He described these practices that are deeply rooted in Hindu and Buddhist traditions as “goofy” and as obstacles in the way of a personal relationship with God.
The Southern Poverty Law Center has also classified the Christian organisation, Family Research Council, founded by Tony Perkins as a hate group for its stances against non-Christians as well as LGBT people. The FRC has spread harmful pseudoscience about LGBT people associating them with pedophilia and sexual assault.
Outlining his ideas of conversion and to ‘take the Gospel around the world’, Tony Perkins has stated, “Our mission is to influence without being influenced. Such an assignment is not easy. The key to the success of this mission of affecting the world around us without being controlled or manipulated by the influences of this world, is being spiritually – but not physically – set apart through our allegiance and submission to the Word of God.”
Furthermore, he wrote in an Op-Ed for Fox News, “We have an unprecedented opportunity to not only take the Gospel to almost every corner of the world – under the policies of the current administration”. Clearly, under this administration, Perkins has found the perfect avenue in the form of USCIRF to further his conversion goals.
Tony Perkins gave a speech to the Louisiana chapter of the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC), a white supremacist group that has described black people as a “retrograde species of humanity”. Perkins has strong connections with Ted Cruz and other Republicans.
Apart from this, there has been witnessed a worrying trend in the USCIRF. A similar report in 2017 raised questions on the commission when it outsourced the report from the work of a British activist Iqtidar Cheema instead of the USCIRF staff. Cheema, as pointed out by the Hindu American Foundation had previously been honored by Pakistani government bodies and is a strong advocate for Pakistan’s foreign policy interests. He has endorsed Khalistani separatist organisations including Babbar Khalsa, a terror organisation which was involved in the bombing of the Air India Flight 182 enroute Montreal to London, in 1985, which killed 329 people from Canada, India, and the UK.
It is clear that the USCIRF is biased, comprises of questionable individuals like Tony Perkins appointed as commissioners and remains bereft of religious diversity, transparency, and accountability. Such egregious reports turn into fodder for the United States’ interventionist policies and geopolitical goals, and while India has done well to resist such hit-jobs, it will be inexpedient for anyone if the USCIRF is perceived with even an ounce of trust. The credibility of the institution simply does not exist.