New Development: Can Mary Ann Glendon Reverse Government Policy on Religious Liberty?

Did you hear this?  On Wednesday, May 23, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced the appointment of Mary Ann Glendon to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). 

Glendon is the Learned Hand Professor of Law at Harvard University and President of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, and former U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See. She writes and teaches in the fields of human rights, comparative law, constitutional law, and political theory. A devout Catholic, Glendon served two terms as a member of the U.S. President’s Council on Bioethics, and represented the Holy See at various conferences including the 1995 U.N. Women’s Conference in Beijing, where she headed the Vatican delegation.  She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences since 1991, the International Academy of Comparative Law, and a past president of the UNESCO-sponsored International Association of Legal Science.

USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan federal body comprised of nine commissioners who are appointed by both Houses of Congress and by the President.  With the appointment of Professor Glendon, there remains one vacancy on the Commission; and it is expected that President Obama will fill that last seat with his own nominee.

The Commission is responsible for reviewing the facts and circumstances of violations of religious freedom internationally and making policy recommendations to the President, Secretary of State, and Congress. USCIRF offers policy recommendations to improve conditions at the critical juncture of foreign policy, national security, and international religious freedom standards.

Ambassador Jackie Wolcott, Executive Director of USCIRF, extend a warm welcome to the newest Commissioner. “Given her remarkable depth of knowledge, experience, and commitment,” Wolcott said, “I am confident that she will be a great asset to our Commission and its mandate, helping us advance the cherished right of freedom of religion or belief around the world and support its integration into our country’s foreign policy and national security strategy.”

Now, here’s where it gets interesting:  Here in the United States, Mary Ann Glendon has been an outspoken critic of the Obama Administration’s narrow definition of religious freedom, and has sided with the bishops in opposition to the HHS Mandate. 

In a May 21 op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, Glendon wrote: 

With this week’s lawsuits, the bishops join a growing army of other plaintiffs around the country, Catholic and non-Catholic, who are asking the courts to repel an unprecedented governmental assault on the ability of religious persons and groups to practice their religion without being forced to violate their deepest moral convictions.

Religious freedom is subject to necessary limitations in the interests of public health and safety. The HHS regulations do not fall into that category. The world has gotten along fine without this mandate—the services in question are widely and cheaply available, and most employers will provide coverage for them.

But if the regulations are not reversed, they threaten to demote religious liberty from its prominent place among this country’s most cherished freedoms.

In May 2011, Glendon was awarded the prestigious Laetare Medal by Notre Dame University; but she declined it, in protest against the university’s invitation to President Obama to speak and to receive an award at their graduation ceremonies.

USCIRF has a mandate to monitor issues of religious freedom internationally; but the United States is, after all, a part of the global community.  Will Glendon’s strong pro-life, pro-freedom stance help to shape the Commission’s policy recommendations, and hence, persuade the U.S. to take a second look at its domestic policies?

Will her gifted rhetoric cause President Obama to furrow his brow like this…

…and then to rethink his policies?

One can only hope and pray.


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