Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Thursday that American values are under attack as he touted the work of an advisory commission he appointed to examine how U.S. human rights policies can better uphold the nation’s “founding principles.”

The panel has been controversial, with political critics expressing fear it will result in attacks on abortion rights and the rights of LGBT people around the world.

In remarks at the National Constitution Center, Pompeo also took aim at protesters and media reports following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, saying many have pushed a view of a nation made up solely of “the oppressors and the oppressed.”

“Instead of seeking to improve America, leading voices promulgate hatred of our founding principles,” he said. “This is a dark vision of America’s birth. I reject it. It is a slander on our great people.”

Held in the upstairs atrium at the Constitution Center, the event was hosted by the Commission on Unalienable Rights and was attended by more than 100 people despite a city health order prohibiting indoor gatherings of 25 or more people due to the coronavirus. Guests were required to wear masks, and chairs for audience members were spaced six feet apart.

The event came a day after Gov. Tom Wolf announced new restrictions aimed at limiting the spread of COVID-19. Earlier this week, Philadelphia city officials canceled a slew of large outdoor gatherings until next February, including the Broad Street Run and the Mummers Parade, saying the ban was needed to prevent a rebound in infections.

Deana Gamble, spokeswoman for Mayor Jim Kenney, said that the city learned of the Pompeo event several days ago, and that the Constitution Center staff shared the city’s health guidelines with organizers.

“Mayor Kenney believes it’s irresponsible to convene in-person events and large gatherings of any kind at this stage of the pandemic,” she said.

The Constitution Center has been closed since mid-March because of the coronavirus. Spokesperson Annie Stone said the State Department rented the venue and provided most staffing for the event.

“We have made their team aware of the revised state guidelines that came out yesterday afternoon about indoor gatherings and requested compliance,” she said in an email.

People listen as United States Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, delivers a speech on the Report of the Commission on Unalienable Rights at the National Constitution Center on Thursday.
JOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer
People listen as United States Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, delivers a speech on the Report of the Commission on Unalienable Rights at the National Constitution Center on Thursday.

The advisory commission, which on Thursday released its first report, was convened by Pompeo with the goal of reevaluating how the nation should approach human rights issues abroad, and whether foreign policy decisions are rooted in the country’s bedrock beliefs.

Pompeo has said the reexamination of human rights is warranted because the meaning of the phrase has been weakened due to a “proliferation” of rights that aren’t inherent but are bestowed on citizens by their governments. “More rights does not necessarily mean more justice,” he said Thursday.

The group is led by Mary Ann Glendon, former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican and a Harvard Law School professor, who is known for her opposition to abortion rights and same-sex marriage.

Human rights activists have sued Pompeo over the study group, alleging that he violated federal law by filling it with “members who have staked out positions hostile to LGBTQ and reproductive rights while excluding established human rights organizations,” according to the organization Democracy Forward. The suit also alleges that the commission has operated behind closed doors and failed to release key public documents.

The panel has not reached final recommendations.

The Pennsylvania Democratic Party on Thursday called the event “a cheap political rally designed to appease Trump’s far-right donors.”

“Instead of working to address the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, which has claimed the lives of nearly 7,000 Pennsylvanians, Donald Trump is sending one of his lackeys to double down on their anti-LGBTQ+, antichoice agenda,” spokesperson Andres Anzola said in a statement. “This is not an official event worthy of the office of the secretary of state.”