Ernest Lefever, by rights

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Lefever.jpegThe death of the Rev. Ernest Lefever, onetime pacifist turned hard-edged Christian realist, prompts a question for which I don’t have an answer. Lefever earned his fifteen minutes of fame as Ronald Reagan’s nominee as assistant secretary of state for human rights and humanitarian affairs. He had been (and remained) a loud opponent of the Carter administration’s human rights policy–and, indeed, of all human rights standards. He’s made his views know to a House committee, was unable to take his words back, and was firmly rejected by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, including by five of the nine Republicans led by the chairman, Charles Percy of Illinois. (My, how the GOP has changed!)

Anyway, Lefever went on to found the Ethics and Public Policy Center, which, among other things, has been in the forefront of pushing the cause of religious freedom around the world. (Cf. Elliott Abrams and Michael Cromartie in particular.) It can hardly be gainsaid that religious is one of the principal human rights. Did Lefever object to this cause? If not, had his mind changed? In his eulogy, EPPC’s George Weigel has nothing to say about Lefever’s views on human rights, one way or another. So what’s the deal?

From a broader perspective, it would be interesting to trace the conservative/neocon evolution from hostility to Carterian human rights to the embrace of neo-Wilsonianism. There’s plenty of room for cynicism, particularly regarding evangelical interest in making the world safe for Christian missionizing. But a disinterested account of the intellectual trajectory would be interesting.

  • You have your chronology reversed. The Ethics and Public Policy Center was founded by Ernest W. Lefever at Georgetown University in 1976; Dr. Lefever was nominated for the State Department human rights post in 1981. He continued as president of the EPPC until 1989.
    Religious liberty issues were a concern of the Center from its early days, with a number of publications in the late ’70s and early ’80s on those topics.
    By the way, it would have been courteous to give credit for the photo of Dr. Lefever that you have posted. It was taken by me in 2006 and originally appeared on my blog on July 31 at

  • Mark Silk

    Thanks for the correction.As for the credit, I just (as most do) lifted it off Google, without diffing down to the source. Credit where credit is due, of course. But perhaps, since you’re so up to speed on Lefever and the EPPC, you could clarify the relationship between the Center’s support for advancing religious liberty and Lefever’s own hostility to human rights standards. There seems to me to be some tension there. Do you disagree?