Mitch McConnell Appoints Hate Group Leader to Religious Freedom Commission

Tony Perkins' "idea of ‘religious freedom’ is having the freedom to discriminate against entire groups of people he doesn’t like," said the Southern Poverty Law Center's Heidi Beirich.

[Photo: Family Research Council President Tony Perkins speaks during a news conference]
Perkins’ group, the Family Research Council, has been designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an anti-LGBTQ hate group. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) on Tuesday appointed Tony Perkins, president of the anti-LGBTQ hate group Family Research Council, to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).

The independent and bipartisan federal commission “reviews the facts and circumstances of religious freedom violations abroad and makes policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State, and Congress.” Three of its commissioners are appointed by the president, and one is appointed by congressional leadership from each party.

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has labeled the Family Research Council an anti-LGBTQ hate group. It has a long history of using inflammatory rhetoric to discuss LGBTQ people. The group’s position is that “homosexual conduct is harmful to the persons who engage in it and to society at large, and can never be affirmed,” according to its website.

“It’s deeply disturbing that Tony Perkins has been appointed to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom,” said Heidi Beirich, director of SPLC’s Intelligence Project, in a statement. “As head of the hate group Family Research Council, Perkins specializes in spreading false propaganda that demonizes the LGBT community and Muslims. His idea of ‘religious freedom’ is having the freedom to discriminate against entire groups of people he doesn’t like. His well-documented bigotry has no place in any government entity.”

Perkins and his group have a long history of using anti-Muslim rhetoric. Speaking on his Washington Watch radio program in 2015, Perkins said Islam “is incompatible with the Constitution”—a statement documented by People for the American Way’s Right Wing Watch.

“I am grateful to Majority Leader McConnell for appointing me to this prestigious position. From my post at USCIRF, I look forward to doing all that I can to ensure that our government is the single biggest defender of religious freedom internationally,” Perkins said in a statement. He will continue working at the Family Research Council while he serves on the commission.

Perkins, who is known for his extreme opposition to abortion rights, also has ties to white supremacist groups.

Gary Bauer, one of the Family Research Council’s past leaders, was also appointed to the council on Tuesday. Bauer, who was appointed by President Trump, is head of the anti-choice organization American Values. According to the group’s website, it is “deeply committed to defending life, traditional marriage and equipping our children with the values necessary to stand against liberal education and cultural forces.”

Bauer has also expressed anti-Muslim sentiment.

Before Trump’s election, Bauer said during a radio interview that Trump, if he won, would install “people like you and me and people that have our values” to positions within the federal government.