Congress Should Respect Human Rights; The 'Global Respect Act' Doesn't

January 27, 2022

The U.S. House of Representatives could soon consider the Global Respect Act (H.R. 3485). Although the title sounds benign, this bill would harm U.S. foreign policy by inserting a radical gender ideology into America's human rights efforts.

The Global Respect Act would enable visa bans against foreign individuals accused of violating the human rights of LGBT-identifying persons and require additional reporting on the status of human rights for LGBT-identifying persons. It would also require the U.S. State Department to designate a senior officer to track violence and discrimination against LGBT-identifying individuals abroad.

While this bill is likely to please progressives, its existence is unnecessary. Current law already enables the U.S. government to sanction foreign persons responsible for human rights violations against anyone, including LGBT-identifying persons. These include visa sanctions, but also Global Magnitsky Sanctions, which are stronger, financial sanctions.

Not only is this bill unnecessary, but more importantly, it will inevitably derail the protection of foundational human rights with which these new "rights" will be seen to conflict.

The far Left frequently asserts that even the failure to affirm someone's sexual orientation and gender identity is a denial of human rights. If that's how the State Department would interpret the Global Respect Act, then foreign individuals such as pastors, teachers, judges, journalists, or private citizens voicing opinions rooted in their faith are at risk of being victimized by this bill.

Such an approach would directly conflict with America's historical commitment to religious freedom around the world and the mechanisms put into place by law to promote religious freedom. These mechanisms include the position of ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, and annual country reports on international religious freedom. Instead of giving religious freedom the prominent place in foreign policy it should hold, Democratic leadership is sidelining it and pushing policies like this in its place.

The broad language used in the Global Respect Act would offer State Department officials an opportunity to target ideological opponents abroad. Grace Melton, the Heritage Foundation's senior associate for international social issues, explains how this bill could be exploited:

"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."

It's entirely inappropriate for the U.S. government to hold countries to standards on "LGBT rights" that are not articulated in international human rights treaties. It's even worse to punish foreign individuals who simply wish to express their sincerely-held religious beliefs, thereby violating the rights to freedom of religion and expression. Yet, this is how the Global Respect Act could be enforced if it passes.

Religious believers around the world are facing increased scrutiny for their beliefs about marriage and family. Current Finnish member of parliament and devout Christian Päivi Räsänen was criminally charged by the Finnish prosecutor general over comments she made affirming God's design for sexuality as understood in the Bible.

This is a clear violation of Ms. Räsänen's religious freedom. Given the United States' longstanding commitment to promoting religious freedom abroad, it's a no-brainer that U.S. diplomats such as the ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom should be speaking out on her behalf. But if the Global Respect Act were passed, would she be sanctioned instead?

Individuals sanctioned because of the Global Respect Act could include officials from allied nations like Poland, Hungary, or any number of African countries--many of which are not human rights abusers but do hold to traditional beliefs on marriage and sexuality. This is sure to strain U.S. relations with allies and harm American foreign policy.

If members of Congress truly want to do something to promote human rights, there is no shortage of challenges to tackle. Congressmembers' efforts would be better spent working to secure Priority 2 (P-2) status for endangered Afghan religious minorities, passing a resolution to condemn forced marriage and conversion in Pakistan, or using the ramp-up to the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics as an opportunity to press for the release of Chinese prisoners of conscience.

Sadly, rather than protect internationally recognized human rights, the Global Respect Act is a purely ideological bill that distracts from pressing international crises, could be used to target American allies, and fails to protect religious freedom. Congress should reject this bill and instead bolster authentic human rights efforts.