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Christopher Tollefsen

Commissioner, State Department Commission on Unalienable Rights

Christopher Tollefsen is a professor of philosophy at the University of South Carolina. The academic and author is a frequent contributor to Public Discourse — a journal published by the ultra-right wing think tank, the Witherspoon Institute — writing anti-abortion, transphobic pieces.


From his seat on the State Department’s Commission on Unalienable Rights, Tollefsen is able to take his anti-reproductive rights views beyond the walls of academia and into the realm of international policymaking.


University of South Carolina, Department of Philosophy

  • Chair, July 2018 – Present
  • Distinguished Professor of Philosophy, 2015 – Present
  • Professor, 2009 – 2015
  • Associate Professor, 2003 – 2009
  • Assistant Professor, 1997 – 2003
  • Visiting Assistant Professor, Fall 1995 – Spring 1996

Wake Forest University, Eudaimonia Institute, Visiting Senior Fellow, Spring 2018

Princeton University

  • James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions, Visiting Fellow, 2011 – 2012, 2004 – 2005
  • Department of Politics, Visiting Associate Professor

Spiritan Institute of Philosophy (in Ghana), Visiting Instructor, Fall 1996 – Spring 1997


Robert P. George: Tollefsen co-authored an anti-abortion article with Robert P. George, a law professor who has spent his career crusading against marriage equality and abortion rights. George has authored multiple discriminatory pieces of legislation in an attempt to marriage for same-sex couples. George has also condemned abortion as an act of “gross and manifest evil.” George is reported to have played a large role in designing the State Department’s Commission on Unalienable Rights, on which Tollefsen serves as a commissioner.


Tollefsen Has Been Called “Perhaps The Commission’s Most Prolific Publisher On Abortion”

Tollefsen Has Decried Abortion As Immoral And Resulting In A “Culture Of Death”; Compared Embryonic Research To “Nazi Science.” “Tollefsen is perhaps the Commission’s most prolific publisher on abortion. In addition to his joint work with [Robert P.] George, Tollefsen has called abortion an ‘immoral act,’ compared state-sponsored embryonic research to ‘Nazi science,’ and asserted that he is ‘increasingly mindful of the way in which the presence of abortion in our world itself works to darken the natural light of reason. As the culture of death proceeds apace, the light of natural reason requires the light of Christ to see even what is obvious.’” [Columbia Human Rights Law Review, 12/1/19]


Tollefsen Was Appointed To The Commission On Unalienable Rights, Which Has Sparked Concern Among Human Rights Activists, In 2019

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo Appointed Tollefsen To The Newly-Formed Commission On Unalienable Rights In 2019. “The definition of human rights has ‘lost focus,’ according to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who told reporters Monday that he's launching a new advisory committee to ‘review the role of human rights in American public policy.’ He announced the new ‘Unalienable Rights’ commission in a Wall Street Journal op-ed on Sunday…The panel will be chaired by Harvard Professor and Human Rights scholar Mary Ann Glendon and will include Russell Berman, Peter Berkowitz, Paolo Carozza, Shaykh Hamza Yusuf Hanson, Jacqueline Rivers, Kiron Skinner, Meir Soloveichik, Katrina Lantos Swett, Christopher Tollefsen and David Tse-Chien Pan, and F. Cartwrite Weiland.” [CBS News, 7/8/19]

The Commission On Unalienable Rights Was Announced In May 2019 And Launched In July 2019

In Its May 2019 Announcement Of The New Commission, The State Department Noted It Will Have Advisory Powers. “The State Department recently published a brief, enigmatic notice announcing the formation of a new Commission on Unalienable Rights. With a modest budget of $385,074 and merely advisory powers, the commission received little attention beyond head-scratching over its strange name. Yet the significance of the endeavor should not be overlooked. It puts the government’s imprimatur on an assault upon one of the cornerstones of modern liberalism: international human rights. According to the commission’s draft charter, its job will be to explore ‘reforms of human rights discourse where it has departed from our nation’s founding principles of natural law and natural rights.’” [Washington Post, 6/14/19]

The State Department Formally Launched The Commission In July 2019. “The State Department will formally launch on Monday an advisory commission on human rights that has engendered controversy since it was proposed.” [Washington Post, 7/8/19]

  • Secretary Of State Mike Pompeo Coopted Human Rights-Based Language To Formally Launch State’s “Commission On Unalienable Rights.” “Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday unveiled a new Commission on Unalienable Rights, a panel he said is aimed at providing him with ‘an informed review of the role of human rights in American foreign policy.’…In remarks at the State Department on Monday, Pompeo noted that ‘words like “rights” can be used by good or evil,’ decrying how some have ‘hijacked’ human rights rhetoric to be used for ‘dubious or malignant purposes.’” [Politico, 7/8/19]

The Commission On Unalienable Rights Champions “Traditional Values” Using Human Rights As A Justification — Despite The Trump Administration’s Consistent Efforts To Undermine Human Rights

The Trump Administration Has Not Supported International Human Rights — Yet Tries To Use The New Commission And Rights-Based Language To Achieve Their Preferred Policies. “Donald Trump is not known as a supporter of international human rights. However, late last week, the Trump State Department announced a new Commission on Unalienable Rights to provide advice and recommendations regarding international human rights policy. Advocacy NGOs are likely to be unhappy, as the commission is likely to attack many of their preferred policies, using human rights — albeit a very different set of rights than most activists prefer — as a justification.” [Washington Post, 6/6/19]

The New Commission Will Likely Prioritize “Natural Family” And “Traditional Values” To Limit Reproductive Rights, Gun Control, And Immigration. “The Trump Commission on Unalienable Rights is likely to champion the ‘natural family’ and ‘traditional values.’…The United States has sought to purge all references to ‘sexual and reproductive health’ at the United Nations since 2017. This term, favored by mainstream human rights activists, is viewed by conservatives as code for abortion, gay and transgender rights, as well as other acts or identities that they see as ‘unnatural.’…Another likely commission favorite will be the right to individual self-defense as a justification for opposing international and domestic gun control…Natural rights could also be used to justify a tougher stance on immigration, as the expression of the sovereign right of a people to protect its territorial integrity and established culture. This clashes with a long-standing concern of human rights groups, the rights of immigrants and refugees. But it jibes well with the sentiments of nationalist movements in Europe and elsewhere, who often promote the rights of majorities.” [Washington Post, 6/6/19]

Human Rights Groups Focusing On LGBTQ Rights Have Decried The Commission And Its Appointees, Including Tollefsen

GLAAD: The Commission Is A “Farce.” Sarah Kate Ellis, the CEO of GLAAD, called the commission a “farce” and accused the Trump administration of “knowingly appointing activists who have made careers out of fighting against LGBTQ progress and is now providing them an opportunity to export their anti-LGBTQ activism around the world through the U.S. State Department.” [NBC News, 7/10/19]

GLAAD Noted Tollefsen’s Past Transphobic Remarks After His Appointment To The Commission. “Among the members flagged by GLAAD [is]…Christopher Tollefsen, who in 2015 said gender transitions are a ‘mark of a heartless culture.’” [NBC News, 7/10/19]

Tollefsen Is A Frequent Contributor To Public Discourse — A Journal Published By Ultra-Right Wing Think Tank, The Witherspoon Institute — Writing Anti-Abortion, Transphobic Pieces

The Witherspoon Institute, Which Runs Public Discourse, Is An Ultra-Right Wing, Anti-LGBTQ, Anti-Abortion, Anti-Feminist Think Tank

The Witherspoon Institute Is Anti-LGBTQ And Believes Marriages Should Only Be Heterosexual. “The second pillar of a decent society is the institution of the family, which is built upon the comprehensive sexual union of man and woman. No other institution can top the family’s ability to transmit what is pivotal—character formation, values, virtues, and enduring love—to each new generation.” [Public Discourse, 2019]

Witherspoon’s Center On Religion and Constitution Takes The Position That All Abortions Are “Tragic Wrongs.” “It is by now a familiar question from liberal journalists when interviewing pro-life candidates: ‘You’re against all abortions — what about in cases of rape and incest?’ Pro-lifers need to learn how to answer this question, because they can always expect it. The question tugs at heartstrings and aims at exposing a weakness. The appeal to compassion for rape and incest victims must be answered with real compassion for both parties in any pregnancy — mother and child. As for the politics of it, a pro-lifer can always say, ‘I am for any legislation that reduces the number of abortions and legally restricts a grave injustice. If that means a bill that eliminates most abortions that are legal now but makes an exception for rape and incest, I’m for it. But that doesn’t mean I’m for the exception. Every abortion is a tragic wrong, and we must work to restore respect for the sanctity of every life, from conception to natural death, no matter what the circumstances.’” [National Review, 8/21/12]

The Editor Of The Witherspoon Institute’s Journal, Public Discourse, Published A Glowing Review Of A Book About The “Takedown Of Contemporary Feminism” And Criticizes The Second-Wave Feminist Movement’s “Stigmatization Of Full-Time Motherhood.” “Sadly, that hasn’t stopped [The Feminist Mystique’s] message—in particular, its stigmatization of full-time motherhood and exaltation of paid work outside the home—from permeating and shaping our culture. After examining the (largely negative) impact of other influential feminists, Charen spends several chapters covering topics that will be familiar to readers of Public Discourse: the contemporary quest to abolish sex differences, the widespread conflation of pro-woman with pro-abortion ideals, the rise of the hook-up culture, and what Charen calls ‘the campus rape mess.’ Here Charen is characteristically unafraid of political incorrectness. She decries the ‘kangaroo courts erected by universities’ that ‘have dispensed with sacred rights protecting the accused, including the right to be represented by counsel, the right to confront witnesses, and the presumption of innocence.’” [Public Discourse, 1/25/19]

Tollefsen Has Written Numerous Articles For Public Discourse Refuting Gender Transitions And Defending Gender Binaries

Tollefsen Wrote That “It Is Impossible For Someone To Change His Or Her Sex, And All Attempts To Do So Involve Mutilation.” “As animals that reproduce sexually, humans in the paradigm case are either male or female, with the sexes specified by reproductive roles they can potentially fulfill. According to this account, it is impossible for someone to change his or her sex, and all attempts to do so involve mutilation.” [Public Discourse, Christopher Tollefsen, 7/13/15]

Tollefsen Believes That “Attempts To Change One’s Biological Sex All Fail.” “No transplant, much less any reconstructive plastic surgery, can integrate a male sex organ into the biological life of a being whose root capacities are female, or vice versa. Nor is it possible that an entirely new set of capacities, dynamically oriented contrary to the orientation already worked out from within the organism’s biological identity, could be integrated into the life of that organism in such a way as to really be a part of his or her biological life. Thus, attempts to change one’s biological sex all fail. That is an undefeatable reason against trying to do so.” [Public Discourse, Christopher Tollefsen, 7/13/15]

Tollefsen Warned That The Erasure Of Gender Binaries And The Denial Of “Capacities And Dispositions” That Are Associated With “The Male And Female Sexes,” Respectively, Would Amount To “Cultural Tyranny.” “On the other hand, it does seem clear that in general the male and female sexes are associated with somewhat different ranges of capacities and dispositions, which are important for a person’s orientation to the entire range of human good, not just that of marriage and parenting. The attempt to efface all gender differences as they emerge from sexual differences (and are seen, for example, in the ways that male and female children characteristically play) is a mistake, and one that could only be furthered only by a kind of parental or, on a large scale, cultural tyranny.” [Public Discourse, Christopher Tollefsen, 7/14/15]

Tollefsen Has Also Written Anti-Abortion Articles For Public Discourse

Tollefsen Defined Abortion As The “Intentional Killing Of The Unborn Child.” “It seems more plausible to think that abortion causes the death of an unborn child, and that a ‘direct’ abortion is an intentional killing of the unborn child. Not only does such a definition avoid the problem cases just mentioned, it draws attention to what is wrong with abortion in a way that the ‘ending of a pregnancy’ definition does not. For while ending a pregnancy is, just as such, a serious matter—under most circumstances, mothers surely owe it to their unborn children to provide them with a uterine home until birth—the wrong of direct abortion is, more specifically, the wrong of intentionally killing one’s unborn child, not the wrong of expelling it from the womb.” [Public Discourse, Christopher Tollefsen, 10/1/10]

Tollefsen Has Strong Ties To Anti-Reproductive Rights, Anti-LGBTQ Advocate Robert P. George, With Whom He Has Co-authored Several Public Discourse Articles And An Anti-Abortion Book

Tollefsen And George’s Collaboration On Anti-Abortion Projects Is Well-Documented. “Commissioners Robert P. George (who is also credited with drafting the Commission Charter) and Christopher Tollefsen have co-authored a book entitled ‘Embryo: A Defense of Human Life.’ In another collaborative piece, George and Tollefsen preview how they might approach key human rights concepts such as equality in the context of abortion: ‘The pro-life view is thus deeply motivated by the principle of the fundamental equality in dignity of all human beings, and certainly not by a desire to manipulate and control.’ George has argued that ‘the choice of abortion is objectively immoral’ and has stated that abortion rights are in opposition to equality and human rights.” [Columbia Human Rights Law Review, 12/1/19]

Tollefsen Authored A 2017 Anti-Abortion Article For Public Discourse With George, A Law Professor Who Has Spent His Career Crusading Against Gay Marriage And Abortion Rights

In Tollefsen And George’s Article, “Embryos And Five-Year-Olds: Whom To Rescue,” They Argue That Life Of A Human Being Begins At Conception And That Fetuses Must Be Given The Same Respect As Human Beings Of Any Age. “As we have noted, it is the standard teaching of every developmental biology textbook we have found that not simply life, but the life of a human being begins at conception…No plausible reason has been given, we think, why some living human beings should be treated as deserving full moral respect and immunity from intentional killing, while other living human beings, differing from the first only in size, developmental stage, and location, should be treated as not deserving such respect. The pro-life view is thus deeply motivated by the principle of the fundamental equality in dignity of all human beings, and certainly not by a desire to manipulate and control. And that conviction is founded on undeniable biological facts, and on a firm commitment to the principle of the equal dignity of each and every member of the human family.” [Public Discourse, Robert P. George and Christopher Tollefsen, 10/19/17]

In 2015, Tollefsen Wrote Another Piece With George Defending Life As Beginning At Conception

In Their Co-authored Piece, Tollefsen, George And Patrick Lee Wrote That Fetuses Are Human Beings. “Senator Rubio is on the firmest possible scientific ground when he says that science shows that the child in the womb, from the very point of successful fertilization, is indeed a human being.” [Public Discourse, Patrick Lee, Christopher Tollefsen, and Robert P. George, 8/18/15]

In Their 2015 Article, Tollefsen Et Al. Insinuated That Abortion Is Morally Equivalent To The Genocide Of Jewish People And Slavery. “Do all human beings have a right to life, or are some ‘not yet persons’ (the unborn, the newly born), or ‘no longer persons’ (those suffering from severe dementia or in minimally conscious states), or lifelong ‘non-persons’ (those congenitally severely cognitively disabled)? Are all human beings equal in worth and dignity? Pro-lifers say yes. Professor Singer and other honest, informed abortion advocates say no. Science cannot settle that dispute. It cannot tell you that it is wrong to kill the physically handicapped on the ground that they are, as the Nazis said, ‘useless eaters.’ For that matter, it cannot tell you whether people may be enslaved or pillaged on account of their language or race.” [Public Discourse, Patrick Lee, Christopher Tollefsen, and Robert P. George, 8/18/15]

Tollefsen Also Collaborated With George On A Book Entitled “Embryo: A Defense Of Human Life”

“Embryo: A Defense Of Human Life” Was First Published In 2008 — Then Republished By The Witherspoon Institute In 2012. [, Christopher Tollefsen CV, accessed 2/19/20].

George Is An Anti-Abortion, Anti-LGBTQ Academic Who Has Condemned Abortion As An Act Of “Gross And Manifest Evil”

George, An Anti-Abortion, Anti-LGBTQ Princeton Professor, Is Reported To Have Played A Large Role In Designing The Commission On Unalienable Rights On Which Tollefsen Serves. “One of the conservative scholars who is reported to have played a large part in designing the formation and aims of the mission is Robert P. George, a distinguished conservative professor at Princeton University, who is expected to be among the commissioners.” [Pass Blue, 6/4/19]

  • George Authored Multiple Discriminatory Pieces Of Legislation In An Attempt To Ban Same-Sex Marriage. “George co-authored the Federal Marriage Amendment in 2001, which would have written discrimination into the U.S. Constitution. And in 2004, he helped draft another discriminatory amendment to ban same-sex marriage. He wrote the “Manhattan Declaration,” a 4,700-word document denouncing not just same-sex marriage, but civil unions or any relationship recognition measure.” [, 3/28/19]
  • George Has Condemned Abortion As An Act Of “Gross And Manifest Evil”

Robert P. George Facebook Post

[Robert P. George Facebook, 1/23/15, accessed 6/27/19]

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