Search form

Group 4 Created with Sketch.
Back to Global Spotlight

Mary Ann Glendon

Chair, State Department Commission on Unalienable Rights

Mary Ann Glendon is a law professor whose work centers on a narrow interpretation of human rights. She has decades of experience pushing her views—prioritizing religious liberty as a reason for denying women care and LGBTQ people rights—through various international bodies, including as a representative for the Vatican


As chair of the State Department’s new Commission on Unalienable Rights, Glendon has been given perhaps her most influential platform yet. Here, she can export her extreme views on religion, reproductive health, and LGBTQ rights globally. 


Harvard University, Professor of Law, 1987–present

U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), Commissioner, 2012–2016

Pontifical Commission of Inquiry for the Institute for Works of Religion, 2014–2018

U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, 2008–2009

Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, President, 2004–2014

George W. Bush’s Council on Bioethics, Member, 2001–2004

Vatican Delegate to the UN Beijing Conference on Women, 1995


Robert P. George: Robert P. George is an anti-LGBTQ, anti-abortion Princeton professor. He has authored multiple discriminatory pieces of legislation in attempts to ban same-sex marriage; George has also condemned abortion as an act of “gross and manifest evil.” George reportedly played a large role in designing the State Department’s Commission on Unalienable Rights, which Glendon now chairs. Glendon and George have worked together for years through the USCIRF (they served on the Commission together) and the Blackstone Legal Fellowship (they are both board members), a project of the designated hate group Alliance Defending Freedom

Alan Sears: Alan Sears is the founder and long-time President and General Counsel of designated hate group Alliance Defending Freedom. Sears left the organization in 2017, but previously presided over a massive expansion of the group’s finances and legal network and built ADF into a highly influential far right group in America. According to ADF’s website, Sears has seen his policy recommendations implemented in 20 state governments. Sears infamously co-wrote a book titled The Homosexual Agenda: Exposing The Principal Threat To Religious Liberty Today in 2003. The book compared LGBTQ rights campaigns to Nazi agitprop and falsely claimed homosexuality fosters pedophilia. Glendon serves on the board of ADF’s Blackstone Legal Fellowship. 


Glendon Has A History Of Opposing LGBTQ Rights

Glendon Penned A 2004 Wall Street Journal Op-Ed Fear Mongering The Detrimental Effects Of Marriage for Same-Sex Couples. “If these social experiments go forward, moreover, the rights of children will be impaired. Same-sex marriage will constitute a public, official endorsement of the following extraordinary claims made by the Massachusetts judges in the Goodridge case: that marriage is mainly an arrangement for the benefit of adults; that children do not need both a mother and a father; and that alternative family forms are just as good as a husband and wife raising kids together. It would be tragic if, just when the country is beginning to take stock of the havoc those erroneous ideas have already wrought in the lives of American children, we should now freeze them into constitutional law. That philosophy of marriage, moreover, is what our children and grandchildren will be taught in school. They will be required to discuss marriage in those terms. Ordinary words like husband and wife will be replaced by partner and spouse. In marriage-preparation and sex-education classes, children will have to be taught about homosexual sex. Parents who complain will be branded as homophobes and their children will suffer.” [Wall Street Journal, 2/25/19]


Mary Ann Glendon, Who Has Contested The Universality Of “Women’s Rights Are Human Rights,” Serves As The Chair Of The State Department’s New Commission On Unalienable Rights

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]

Pompeo Appointed Glendon The Head Of The Commission And In Forming It, Drew On Her Ideas Contesting “Women’s Rights Are Human Rights” Her Narrow Interpretation Of Human Rights

The Commission’s New Chair Has A Narrow Interpretation Of Human Rights. “Pompeo’s definition of ‘unalienable rights’ draws on the ideas of a legal scholar who has staked her career on making a stark distinction between human rights and women’s rights. Mary Ann Glendon is a Harvard Law School professor, former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican and outspoken opponent of same-sex marriage and abortion. Pompeo has not just drawn on Glendon’s ideas but also appointed her as the head of the new commission. According to Glendon, ‘Human rights are women’s rights. … But it is not the case that whatever a particular nation state decides to call a woman’s ‘right’ is necessarily a universal human right.’” [Washington Post, 8/15/19]

  • Glendon’s Narrowing Of The Meaning Of Human Rights Serves To Execute The Trump Administration’s Efforts To Curtail Reproductive Rights Globally. “Differentiating between ‘unalienable rights’ and ‘ad hoc rights’ does the same thing as Glendon’s contrast between human rights and women’s rights: They both narrow the meaning of human rights to the natural law and rights of the U.S. political tradition. This undermines the international feminist movement and other movements for social, economic and racial justice that have driven the development of universal human rights over the 20th century. Such a definition legitimizes, for instance, Pompeo’s recent expansion of the Mexico City Policy, also known as the global gag rule, which denies U.S. foreign aid to organizations offering abortion-related services or advocacy.” [Washington Post, 8/15/19]

Human Rights Advocacy Organizations Have Criticized The Commission As “Politicizing Human Rights For Hate”

Amnesty International: The Trump “Administration Has Actively Worked To Deny And Take Away Long-Standing Human Rights Protections” — The New Commission Will Only Be Used To Undermine Existent Rights-Based Framework Already In Place. “Reacting to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s announcement today of a creation of a Commission on Unalienable Rights, Joanne Lin, national director of advocacy and government affairs at Amnesty International USA said: ‘This administration has actively worked to deny and take away long-standing human rights protections since Trump’s inauguration. If this administration truly wanted to support people’s rights, it would use the global framework that’s already in place. Instead, it wants to undermine rights for individuals, as well as the responsibilities of governments. This approach only encourages other countries to adopt a disregard for basic human rights standards and risks weakening international, as well as regional frameworks, placing the rights of millions of people around the world in jeopardy. International agreements, like the Universal Declaration for Human Rights, have been upheld by prior administrations over the last 71 years, regardless of their party. This politicization of human rights in order to, what appears to be an attempt to further hateful policies aimed at women and LGBTQ people, is shameful.’” [Amnesty International, 7/8/19]

Glendon Supports The Catholic Church’s Anti-Abortion, Anti-Contraception Stances And Has Been Recognized As A “Hero Of The Pro-Life Movement”

Glendon Led The Vatican’s Delegation To The 1995 UN Conference On Women In Beijing, Where She Represented The Pope’s Anti-Reproductive Rights Beliefs. “Mary Ann Glendon, the Harvard law professor who is the Vatican's surprising choice to head its delegation to the United Nations Conference on Women that starts next week in Beijing… says she could not agree more with John Paul II, a Pope known for his rigid defense of traditional Catholic teachings not only on abortion but also on contraception and the role of women in the church.” [New York Times, 6/29/95]

Glendon Received Notre Dame’s 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award For “Heroes Of The Pro-Life Movement.” “Harvard Law School Professor and former U.S. ambassador to the Holy See Mary Ann Glendon received the Evangelium Vitae Medal from the University of Notre Dame’s Center for Ethics and Culture. She received the medal at an April 28 banquet held at Notre Dame in her honor. Named for St. John Paul II’s 1995 encyclical on life issues, the Notre Dame Evangelium Vitae Medal is a lifetime achievement award given to ‘heroes of the pro-life movement.’ It honors individuals whose efforts have served ‘to proclaim the Gospel of human life by steadfastly affirming and defending its sanctity from its earliest stages.’” [Harvard Law Today, 5/4/18]

Glendon Is On The Board of Directors for First Things, A Religious, Conservative Journal That Believes Life Begins At Conception

Glendon Serves On The Board Of First Things, A Conservative Journal Published By The Institute On Religion And Public Life. [First Things Masthead, accessed 2/5/20]

The Institute On Religion And Public Life Describes Its Mission As Defending Human Dignity Beginning At Conception And Supporting Government Guided By Religion And Morals. “First Things is published by the Institute on Religion and Public Life, an interreligious, nonpartisan research and educational 501(c)(3) organization. The Institute was founded in 1989 by Richard John Neuhaus and his colleagues to confront the ideology of secularism, which insists that the public square must be “naked,” and that faith has no place in shaping the public conversation or in shaping public policy. The Institute’s mission is to articulate a governing consensus that supports: a religiously pluralistic society that defends human dignity from conception to natural death; [and] a democratic, constitutionally ordered form of government supported by a religiously and morally serious culture.” [First Things, accessed 2/5/20]

Glendon Previously Served On The United States Commission On International Religious Freedom (USCIRF); Has Long Advocated For Religious Freedom — Which She Says Is Becoming A “Second-Class Right” 

Glendon Served On The USCIRF From 2012 To 2016. [, accessed 6/27/19]

Glendon Said That “Religious Freedom Is Well On Its Way To Becoming A Second-Class Right” In The United States. “Moving now to the state of religious freedom in the U.S. today, I have to begin by saying how thankful I am every time I return from a USCIRF trip to a country where religious minorities live in daily fear of violent persecution. My renewed appreciation for the freedoms we enjoy here at home, however, comes with increasing concern that we are letting something precious slip away. To put it starkly: I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that religious freedom is well on its way to becoming a second-class right—in the sense that it is being demoted from the status of a fundamental right to just one of many competing interests—one that can all too easily be trumped by other rights, claims, and interests.” [NYU Cardinal Egan Lecture, 2015]

Glendon Lauded Praise On A Heritage Foundation Fellow’s Anti-Transgender Book That Dismisses Transgender Lived Experiences As Confusion And/Or Mental Illness

The Heritage Foundation’s Ryan T. Anderson Published A Book Calling Transgender People Mentally Ill And Part Of A “Politically Correct Fad.” “When Harry Became Sally depends on readers being skeptical about transgender identities from the start. ‘[O]rdinary Americans recognize the transgender moment to be a politically correct fad built on a shaky platform, and many are pushing back,’ Anderson writes. ‘This book is intended to arm them with knowledge.’ … Anderson also attempts to convince the reader that these transgender individuals are all mentally ill and would be better off not transitioning.” [Think Progress, 1/25/18]

In His Book, Anderson Claims To Be Compassionate Towards Transgender People — All The While Misgendering Them And Calling Their Lived Experiences “Misguided Feelings” That “Do Not Change Reality.” “Anderson believes that transgender people are suffering from delusions and claims to be motivated by compassion for people who experience gender dysphoria, while rejecting every aspect of their transitioned identities. ‘Jenner is not a woman,’ he says of Caitlyn Jenner, whom he references on multiple occasions. ‘Regardless of which technical labels the experts apply to him [sic], the crucial point is that his [sic] feelings and thoughts are misguided and they do not change reality.’” [Think Progress, 1/25/18]

Glendon, In Turn, Called Anderson’s Anti-Transgender Book “Eminently Readable” And An “Insightful Guide.” “Mary Ann Glendon, a law professor at Harvard University, says the book ‘is an eminently readable and insightful guide for all who find themselves perplexed by today’s debates on gender identity.’” [The Heritage Foundation, 9/3/19]

Glendon Has Direct Ties To Designated Hate Group Alliance Defending Freedom

Glendon Has Served On The Advisory Board Of Alliance Defending Freedom’s Blackstone Legal Fellowship. “A vocal opponent of LGBT equality, Glendon serves on the advisory board for the Blackstone Legal Fellowship, a project of the Alliance Defending Freedom, the same group that helped craft Arizona's license-to-discriminate law.” [, 5/6/15]

ADF And Its Leaders Hold Hateful Anti-LGBTQ Views; The Group Has Been Classified As A Hate Group By The Southern Poverty Law Center

ADF Is A Recognized Hate Group By The Southern Poverty Law Center. “Founded by some 30 leaders of the Christian Right, the Alliance Defending Freedom is a legal advocacy and training group that has supported the recriminalization of homosexuality in the U.S. and criminalization abroad; has defended state-sanctioned sterilization of trans people abroad; has linked homosexuality to pedophilia and claims that a “homosexual agenda” will destroy Christianity and society. ADF also works to develop “religious liberty” legislation and case law that will allow the denial of goods and services to LGBT people on the basis of religion. Since the election of President Donald Trump, the ADF has become one of the most influential groups informing the administration’s attack on LGBT rights working with an ally in Attorney General Jeff Sessions.” [SPLC, Accessed 10/25/19]

ADF Frequently References A Conspiratorial “Homosexual Agenda,” Which Is Designed To Undermine “Religious Liberty” In American Society

“[ADF] Claims It Is Equipping Attorneys To ‘Battle The Radical Homosexual Legal Agenda.’” [Southern Poverty Law Center, 7/24/17

An ADF Attorney Claimed A Hate Crime Against A Gay Man Was A Hoax Meant To Advance “The Homosexual Agenda.” “An attorney for anti-LGBT extremist group the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) peddled the myth that the story of Matthew Shepard's brutal anti-gay murder was fabricated in order to advance the ‘homosexual agenda.’” [Media Matters, 10/28/14]

ADF Posted A Blog Titled: “More Proof: The Homosexual Agenda Clashes With Religious Freedom.” [ADF Website Archive, 10/25/12]

ADF Founder And Then-President Alan Sears Cowrote A Book Titled “The Homosexual Agenda: Exposing The Principal Threat To Religious Liberty Today”.

In 2003, ADF Founder And Then-President Alan Sears Cowrote A Book Titled “The Homosexual Agenda: Exposing The Principal Threat To Religious Liberty Today.” “Societal gains by LGBT people have long been in the group’s sights, however. Alan Sears, ADF’s longtime president, CEO and general counsel, cowrote a book in 2003 called ‘The Homosexual Agenda: Exposing the Principal Threat to Religious Liberty Today,’ in which he argued that the repeal of anti-sodomy laws would lead to a roll back of ‘laws against pedophilia, sex between close relatives, polygamy, bestiality and all other distortions and violations of God’s plan.’” [ABC News, 10/06/17]

  • The Book Compared The LGBTQ Rights Media Campaigns Of The 70s And 80s As “A War Of Propaganda, Just As Hitler Did So Masterfully In Nazi Germany.” “Sears and Osten described the media campaign conducted by LGBT activists in the 70s and 80s (as summarized in the account After The Ball: How America Will Conquer Its Fear and Hatred of Gays in the 90s) to ‘a war of propaganda, just as Hitler did so masterfully in Nazi Germany.’” [SLPC, 7/24/17]
  • The Book Claimed That “The Very Future Of Our Nation Is At Risk If The Homosexual Agenda Continues To Advance Unchecked?” “The authors ask, ‘How far down the road have homosexual activists taken us to their goal of unbridled sexual behavior and the silencing of the church?’ (p. 14)  ‘The very future of our nation is at risk if the homosexual agenda continues to advance unchecked,’ (p. 27) the authors state.” [SLPC, 7/24/17]
  • The Book Claimed That LGBTQ Activists Attempt To “Indoctrinate Children” And Link Homosexuality To Pedophilia. “Sears and Osten also claim that homosexual activists are attempting to ‘indoctrinate children’ as early as kindergarten. (p. 52) The authors link homosexuality to pedophilia: ‘Despite ever-present denials by homosexual activists, the link to child sex (adults promoting sex with young boys) and homosexual behavior is alarming.’” [SLPC, 7/24/17]

ADF Believes Sexual Orientation Is A Choice And Argues Against Legal Protections For LGBTQ People On This Basis

ADF Has Repeatedly Argued In Court That Sexual Orientation Should Not Be Considered A Protected Class Because Of The Right-Wing Belief That Sexuality Is A Choice. “Our review of ADF’s briefs also found that the organization repeatedly argued in court that sexual orientation is not a suspect class, and as such that laws denying LGBTQ rights should not be subject to strict scrutiny. That argument is based partly on ADF’s contention, common on the Christian right, that sexual orientation and gender identity, unlike race, are matters of choice.” [The Nation, 11/28/17]

See More