Religious Right Determines Foreign Policy


the March meeting of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, attended
by 6,000 women from 130 countries, the U.S. delegation created a
furor when it refused to sign a declaration reaffirming the Beijing
Platform for Action. Signed by the U.S. and 184 other countries
in 1995, the Platform included resolutions asserting the fundamental
rights of women and called for ending discrimination against women
in 12 areas. 

signing a reaffirmation of the Beijing Platform, the U.S. delegation
demanded that an amendment rejecting abortion be inserted. Meeting
with widespread opposition from international women’s organizations
and supported only by Egypt and Qatar, the leader of the U.S. delegation,
Ambassador Ellen R. Sauerbrey, eventually relented and signed the

signing, Sauerbrey made it clear that the declaration would not
legally bind the U.S. under international law, did not recognize
abortion as a method of family planning, or support abortion in
its reproductive health assistance, and did not support quotas as
a method of advancing women. Sauerbrey, a Republican national committee-
person described as a “conservative stalwart” by


magazine, stressed that the U.S. upholds an “ABC”
approach to women’s health: abstinence, be faithful, and the
use of condoms “where appropriate” to prevent the spread

to Zonibel Woods, senior advisor for international policy at the
International Women’s Health Coalition, instead of addressing
important human rights issues and determining how to move forward
at the conference, the U.S. delegation spent its time attempting
to roll back commitments made ten years ago. “They wasted a
lot of time,” said Woods. “They claim to defend women’s
rights, but they attack women’s rights at every international
meeting when they think no one is looking.” 

observed that other countries are frustrated by U.S. policy that
focuses moralistically on abstinence, parental rights, and restricting
comprehensive health education. In addition to withholding $34 million
earmarked for the United Nations Population Fund, which is used
to promote family planning, sexual and reproductive rights, sex
education, and condom use, Bush imposed “a global gag rule,”
preventing organizations that receive U.S. funds from counseling,
referring, or providing information on abortion. The UN estimates
that withholding these funds led to an additional 2 million unwanted
pregnancies and more than 75,000 infant and child deaths. 

collection of advocates for right-wing think tanks and fundamentalist
groups now populate U.S. delegations to the UN. For example, the
official U.S. women’s delegation includes: Nancy Pfoten- hauer,
president of the Independent Women’s Forum, which is opposed
to spending tax dollars to relieve violence against women and opposes
women’s comparable pay efforts and affirmative action programs;
and Winsome Packer, former executive assistance to the vice president
of the Heritage Foundation. 

appointments to non-governmental organization (NGO) observer status
to the UN come from right-wing religious groups, such as the following:

  • Janet Parshall,
    author of

    Tough Faith: Trusting God in Troubled Times


    Light in the City: Why Christians Must Advance and Not Retreat

    hosts a conservative talk show and frequently attacks women’s
    rights advocates, such as Gloria Steinem and Patricia Ireland. 

  • A devout Presbyterian,
    Patricia P. Brister served as chair of the Republican Party of
    Louisiana and chair of Bush/Cheney ‘04 in Louisiana.

  • Susan B. Hirschmann,
    a lobbyist, is a former chief of staff for Tom DeLay and former
    executive director of Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum, a conservative
    political action group that helped defeat the Equal Rights Amendment
    and is a vociferous opponent of the feminist movement.


Such appointments
illustrate a religious focus on foreign policy that is a break with
the traditional separation of church and state, a policy that began
to change with Pat Robertson and the creation of the Moral Majority.
Backed by social conservatives, neoconservative ideologues, and
the religious right, Ronald Reagan declared that foreign policy
would henceforth rest on moral clarity combined with military might. 

In the 1980s and
1990s, some estimate that right-wing foundations poured over $1
billion into conservative think tanks, organizations, and lobbying
efforts. According to the Media Transparency grants database, in
1994 these conservative “philanthropies” and think tanks
controlled $1.1 billion in assets. From 1992 to 1994 they awarded
$300 million in grants and targeted $210 million to support a wide
variety of projects and institutions. 

Approximately 12
foundations fund a network of interconnected groups that coordinate
activities and push similar agendas. Several of these right-wing
religious groups stand out for their growing power in foreign policy.
They include:

  • The Center for
    Security Policy claims it is “committed to the time-tested
    philosophy of promoting international peace through American strength.”
    Its website condemns the UN General Assembly for “utopian
    socialism” and as a haven of anti-Americanism whose members
    “can only be regarded as enemies.” It questions whether
    the U.S. should be a member of the UN and praises Bush for his
    willingness “to finish the war (in Iraq) and win at all costs.” 

  • The Institute
    on Religion and Democracy (IRD) claims “to reform the social
    and political witness of the American churches” by countering
    the “secular agenda of the Left” with “the timeless
    message of Jesus Christ.” In fact, the IRD concentrates on
    attacking and discrediting church leaders and provoking conflict
    in mainline Protestant denominations that embrace “leftist
    crusades” such as feminism, environmentalism, pacifism, multi-culturalism,
    socialism, sexual liberation, and other movements that “pose
    a threat to our democracy.” The IRD supported the Contra
    death squads in Central America and right-wing militaristic Zionists,
    and criticized mainstream Christians that “spout pacifist-sounding
    slogans.” The IRD is closely allied with antifeminist organizations
    such as Concerned Women for America and the Ecumenical Coalition
    on Women and Society, who aim to “counter radical feminist
    ideology and agenda.” 

  • The Institute
    for Public Policy and Religion (IPPR), which backs the central
    role of religion in public life, is led by Richard John Neuhaus,
    a Catholic priest and an outspoken advocate of democratic capitalism.
    Since its founding, the IPPR has tried to steer concern away from
    human rights toward religious freedom. The institute warns its
    followers against engaging in global warming issues, supports
    “just wars,” and advocates greater Christian participation
    in public and foreign policy to promote family life, right-to-life,
    anti-abortion, and anti-gay marriage programs. 

  • The Ethics and
    Public Policy Center (EPPC), established in 1976, aims “to
    clarify and reinforce the bond between the Judeo-Christian moral
    tradition and the public debate over domestic and foreign policy
    issues.” The EPPC was the first institute to attack “secular
    humanists” and promote a “cultural war” against
    liberalism. Ernest Lefever, founder of EPPC, authored

    Imperial Burden

    , which justifies U.S. empire building. Convicted
    felon Elliott Abrams served as president from 1996 to 2001. 

  • A myriad of
    other groups such as the Independent Women’s Forum, Empower
    America, the Family Research Council, Concerned Women for America,
    and the International Right-to-life Foundation also play a role
    in promoting a religious right-wing agenda.

The efforts of these
groups has paid off in converting the role of the Christian right
from one of criticizing the UN as a secular institution to infiltrating
and attempting to reshape the UN agenda. According to Mark Silk,
director of the Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion
in Public Life at Trinity College, Bush’s focus on religious
issues such as abortion, religious school vouchers, same sex marriage,
and Israel helped mobilize his white evangelical base. Since 9/11,
foreign policy has taken on “significant religious dimensions”
with “a rhetorical style of America bringing God’s gift
of freedom to the planet.” 

By breaking down the separation of church and state, these groups
are bringing religion squarely into the center of government and
refocusing governmental policy on their narrowly defined ethical
and religious views. Few would disagree with an infusion of ethics
into politics, but, as always, the devil is in the details. These
groups share a belief in the superiority of U.S. religious and economic
systems and are quick to force them on other countries and cultures. 

“Ethics that assume the superiority of traditional Judeo-Christian
values over other cultures and religions are arrogant,” said
Tom Barry, policy director for the International Relations Center.
“This idea does not facilitate democratic or constructive engagement,
but leads to reaction and growth in religious fundamentalism by
destabilizing other cultures and societies.” 

“We are not facilitating democratic or constructive engagement
but fostering a reaction,” said Barry. “By threatening
people, we drive them back to fundamentalist values. We are leading
to a growth in religious fundamentalism.”

Don Monkerud
is a freelance writer.