Earlier in December, when the Citizenship Amendment Bill (now Act) was passed in the Lok Sabha, USCIRF issued a statement that ‘if the CAB passes in both houses of parliament, the United States government should consider sanctions against the Home Minister and other principal leadership’.
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) routinely preaches to the world about religious freedom and in particular accuses Hinduism of being the most oppressive religion in the world, and Hindus of being the most violent people on earth. As if on cue, these accusations are immediately picked up by identifiable members of the media, professors in prominent universities, and activists belonging to so-called human rights organisations and perpetrated through repetition in order to make them the truth.
Now, the USCIRF is caught up in a scandal with at least one of their former commissioners alleged to be involved in several cases of paedophilia and other commissioners involved in the cover up of scandals involving the sexual abuse of young children. Before going into those details, an introduction to the USCIRF is in order so that it becomes clear why this entity preaching religious freedom is a case of the fox guarding the hen house.
In a little more than 20 years of its existence, USCIRF has had 54 commissioners. Among these commissioners, there have been two bishops, an archbishop, a cardinal, a president of American Baptist Churches, a president of both the Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary and the Christian group World Vision, a minister of a Methodist church, an editor of the Christian Post, who was also a commissioner of the Southern Baptist Convention and the president of Southern Evangelical Seminary, another contributor to the Christian Post, a member of the pastoral staff of West Hopewell Presbyterian Church, an advisory editor of Christianity Today, a president of the National Association of Evangelicals and ambassador of the proselytising Christian organisation Convoy of Hope, a board member of the Catholic Association and the Catholic Association Foundation and Opus Dei’s Catholic Information Center, two Baptist pastors, one of whom served as the president of the National Baptist Convention, a board member of the Evangelical Covenant Church, a Harvard University professor, who was Vatican’s representative to the Beijing Conference on Women and a member of the Pontifical Commission for Vatican Bank and who is on a mission waging a war on condoms because the Pope has banned their use, the chairman of the Christian group National Organisation of Marriage, as well as his student, a Jesuit priest who is a columnist for the National Catholic Reporter, a person who is part of Refugees International which is funded by the evangelical group Preemptive Love, the co-chair of the Las Vegas Area Public Communications Committee of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the executive director of the Christian group Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and a winner of the Outstanding Catholic Leadership award from the Catholic Leadership Institute, two members who were honoured by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints at an event for which the press release said their aim was to spread the gospel, an ordained minister, who received an honorary doctorate from televangelist Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University, where “Creation Studies” is a legitimate field with the origins of the world being taught from the Biblical viewpoint, the president of the fundamentalist Protestant group Family Research Council, who was also the senior vice president of Focus on the Family, which is an evangelical group that describes itself a “parachurch” organisation, a Greek Orthodox activist who doubles up as a professor at Tufts University’s Fletcher School, a Maronite Christian activist, a Mormon activist who prides himself as the great-great-great grandson of the Mormon leader Brigham Young’s brother, and an evangelical Christian who served as Jerry Falwell’s assistant.
Out of the 54 commissioners, 31 have been Christians and these were no ordinary Christians as can be seen from the list. Each one of them has been an overt activist associated with at least one proselytising church or organisation involved in converting the world into Christianity. Of the remaining 23 commissioners, there have been eight Muslims including one imam and four members of Islamic activist groups, two practising Buddhists, a Bahai, who was a member of the Board of Counselors of the Bahais of America, and ten Jews consisting of two rabbis, a vice chancellor of a Jewish Theological Seminary, a New York Times correspondent, and several others connected to the State Department and CIA affiliates such as the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) and the Rockefeller Fund.
Only Hindus have never found genuine representation on the commission or its staff. Of the three commissioners of Indian descent, one was a Muslim who worked for the State Department and was an ambassador, while the other two—Preeta Bansal and Anurima Bhargava—have no history of working with Hindu groups or advocating any idea defending Hindus, but have exhibited hostility towards Hinduism and are the stereotypical water carriers for those whom they have helped in the mission to convert the people of other countries into Christianity. In particular, India, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Mongolia, China and South Korea have faced the wrath of their vituperative propaganda. All three of them are connected to the Council on Foreign Relations, which is known for setting the foreign policy agenda of the United States despite having no constitutional or legal authority to do so. Almost every claim of persecution of Christians that appears in USCIRF reports and other State Department documents is intended to justify covert acts in India and other countries.
That leaders of Christian organisations have been in majority on the commission at all times and every Christian commissioner of USCIRF has belonged to an aggressive proselytising organisation is no accident. USCIRF has its origins in what was called the Advisory Committee on Religious Freedom Abroad created by the State Department under Bill Clinton in November 1996, just two months after Clinton addressed the National Baptist Convention in Orlando and promised “to build the kingdom of God here on Earth”.
This committee had 20 people on it and the titles of some of those on the committee reveal its nature: Reverend Don Argue, Reverend Joan Bell Campbell, the Very Reverend Leonid Kishkovsky, the Most Reverend Ricardo Ramirez, His Eminence Archbishop Spyridon, and the Most Reverend Theodore McCarrick. There were a total of 12 Christians representing various denominations and every one of them was associated with proselytising organisations. There were also a couple of Muslims, one of whom was an imam and the other a Muslim activist and a member of the Bahai Continental Board of Counselors.
Not only were Hindus kept out of this advisory committee, but people with a reputation of being Hindu-baiters were included on it. A Methodist from Harvard University named Diana Eck, who had worked with the World Council of Churches and the National Council of Churches and who was known for her staunch opposition to Hinduism, was part of the committee. Eck also runs a Christian outfit named Pluralism Project, which receives funding from the Lily Endowment, which states that its “primary aim in religion is to deepen and enrich the religious lives of American Christians, principally by supporting efforts that enhance the vitality of congregations”. Apart from Eck, another person on the committee whose hostile focus was India was Barnett Rubin of the Council on Foreign Relations. It was clear from the outset that the committee’s goal was to exclude Hindus so that targeting India for conversions could be incorporated into the State Department’s official foreign policy.
In early 1997, in an admission that the committee’s aim was to propagate Christianity around the world, their report used the title “United States Policies in Support of Religious Freedom: Focus on Christians”. It was the recommendation of this advisory committee which resulted in the creation of USCIRF in 1998. The prime movers of the piece of legislation which created the USCIRF were two evangelical Christian members of the Congress, Joe Pitts and the now disgraced Trent Franks, who was forced to resign from the Congress after an expose of his sexual harassment of one of his aides.
The State Department’s bigotry against Hindus was at its peak in the Clinton era in the 1990s, and during this period, it manufactured and fanned the flames of anti-Hindu hysteria. The report of the advisory committee insinuated that Hindus were extremely dangerous people, and the State Department provided cover for the Vatican by demanding that there be no laws or action against even those who used violence to convert others to Christianity.
Emboldened by these developments, Christian groups which were funded by American and British Baptist churches and openly supported by the evangelical Christian and former American President Jimmy Carter ratcheted up their activities and issued fatwas calling for a ban on Hindu and Buddhist religious activities in India’s northeastern states.
The initial years of the USCIRF had commissioners like Theodore McCarrick, who were also members of the advisory committee. Despite being a government body, the commission at this time was brazen about publicly displaying its lack of neutrality towards various religions and wore its religious identity on its sleeve when it congratulated McCarrick’s appointment as the archbishop of Washington DC.
Another commissioner in the initial years was Felice Gaer, who had testified before the Congress seeking the creation of USCIRF. Gaer’s dual role as a member of “public” who provided “independent” inputs to the Congress and then as a commissioner is evidence that the creation of USCIRF, the testimonies before the Congress, and the annual reports of USCIRF were all orchestrated and are part of a predetermined agenda.
Gaer, who is known for her rabid anti-Hindu views, has been an establishment insider for several decades. She has been part of the Ford Foundation as well as the Council on Foreign Relations. During a conversation with former commissioner James Zogby, a Maronite Christian, Aundreia Alexander who was the associate general secretary of the National Council of Churches admitted that USCIRF was a tool of American foreign policy when she stated, “When USCIRF arbitrarily chooses not to [investigate] certain nations, it indicates that this commission is but a tool of American foreign policy—willing to bludgeon those countries our nation has identified as enemies, and to protect those that we see as allies.” European countries come nowhere close to India when it comes to safeguarding the religious rights of Muslims and other minorities. Many of them have blasphemy laws rooted in forbidding the defamation of Christianity and they openly target Muslims by banning girls from wearing headscarves and depriving them of education for disobeying this law. Switzerland goes a step further and bans minarets on mosques, while Germany bans the foreign funding of mosques. Germany and a few other countries also act as collection agents for the Vatican by imposing a “church tax” and handing over the money to the Catholic churches. Recently, the German state of Bavaria passed a law requiring government buildings to hang crosses.
In reality, India has the most religious liberties in the world and is the safest place for Muslims and other minorities, and this situation should be credited to India’s Hindu ethos. It is dishonesty and bigotry on the part of the US State Department and USCIRF that drives them into denying and distorting this fact. Their bigotry is rooted in their religious composition which was achieved by packing the USCIRF with church leaders, but that also meant it was only a matter of time before it led to an inevitable problem that should have been entirely anticipated. That problem is now starting to explode in a spectacular manner.
The Most Reverend Theodore McCarrick, who shaped USCIRF as a commissioner and went on to become a cardinal, is now under investigation for sexually abusing several boys. Another commissioner, the Most Reverend Bishop Ramirez let an admitted molester Reverend David Bentley serve in his parish since 2000. Yet another commissioner, Ted Van Der Meld of the Evangelical Covenant Church, helped cover up the predatory approaches of former Congressman Mark Foley towards teenage boys in the form of obscene messages. A fourth commissioner, Leonard Leo, who is also part of the Opus Dei, recently had dinner with Cardinal George Pell who has been convicted of paedophilia.
It also turns out that Andy Khawaja, a sitting commissioner, has been indicted for illegally funnelling money from his close associate George Nader, who is now in federal custody for trafficking a 14-year old boy from Europe and raping him. Khawaja has already paid a fine of $110 million to the federal government for aiding, in the words of Associated Press, “pornographers, debt collectors and offshore gamblers access the international banking system, by using dummy foreign corporations and fake websites to disguise the underlying business.” It remains to be seen if Khawaja or McCarrick will be convicted first, but neither of them will be the first USCIRF commissioner with the title of “convict” on their résumé. That honour belongs to former commissioner Elliot Abrams, a CFR member and a diplomat.
It is inconceivable that other commissioners did not know about the activities related to the sexual abuse of children by their colleagues. Their silence on the systemic rape of children by elements in the Catholic church and its cover up by the Vatican in their official reports is telling on the US State Department, which has a long history of covering up abuse by its ambassadors and staff members. In 2013, the media outlet NBC reported on such a cover-up by the State Department under Hillary Clinton. Shamefully, in the same report, NBC decided to protect the culprits by concealing their names.
It is hard to fathom how a government entity can have so many characters without the approval of government officials at the highest levels.
Ironically, there may also be another angle to USCIRF. Tom Lantos, after whom the State Department’s so-called human rights commission is named and which works closely with USCIRF, may not have been a Jewish victim of Nazis. Many of his claims which have been spread by his family members are unverifiable and even incredulous. For example, the claim that he was incarcerated in what has been described variously as a concentration camp or a forced labour camp run by the Nazis near Budapest is a dishonest one as there was no concentration camp or labour camp in the vicinity of Budapest.
There is also no evidence of Lantos having escaped Hungary using papers provided by Raoul Wallenberg, who helped many Jews escape the Nazis. Katrina Lantos Swett, the daughter of Tom Lantos, admitted that her family has no papers provided by Wallenberg to Lantos. Lantos himself started talking about Wallenberg only in the 1970s after the media highlighted the story of Wallenberg’s disappearance. Additionally, the biggest clue about his religious background is in his name as Thomas and its Hungarian version Tamás are not Jewish names but Christian names.
Strangely, both Lantos’ wife and their daughter Katrina Lantos Swett, who is a former USCIRF commissioner, claim to have converted out of Judaism into Mormonism. This is inconsistent with the typical behaviour of the Jewish victims of Nazis. There are other discrepancies such as the multiple versions of how Lantos met his wife and multiple names for his wife who started claiming only in 1989 that she was the cousin of the actress and socialite Zsa Zsa Gabor, whose family members in Hungary had been killed by the Nazis. Gabor, who was in her 70s at the time, did not reciprocate this claim. The stories of Tom Lantos being persecuted too have varied over time and some remember Lantos conveniently claiming during the days it was fashionable to take on an anti-Communist stance that he was a refugee from Communists who had invaded Hungary.
USCIRF sits at the confluence of interests shared by non-profit groups, churches, charity foundations that act as fronts for the CIA, universities, media outlets, government entities and intelligence agencies. Its commissioners have indulged in activities including sexually abusing young children, and countries around the world have an obligation to label the USCIRF as a hate group and ban it and even open investigations against its commissioners and staff members who have visited their countries and charge them for crimes, including those related to the trafficking and abuse of children.
Arvind Kumar can be reached at [email protected]