The Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC), founded in 1976, is one of a handful of organizations established by neoconservatives to promote an increased role of religion in public policy and turn back the influence of secularism. Similar institutions include the Institute on Religion and Democracy and the Institute on Religion and Public Life, as well as the various religious freedom programs created by think tanks like the American Enterprise Institute. EPPC describes itself as "dedicated to applying the Judeo-Christian moral tradition to critical issues of public policy. According to the group's website, "EPPC and its scholars have consistently sought to defend the great Western ethical imperatives—respect for the inherent dignity of the human person, individual freedom and responsibility, justice, the rule of law, and limited government." The center sponsors conferences, publishes books and reports, and provides the media with policy analysis relating to its research programs. It operates a numerous programs that mix politics with religion.
The group has attracted attention most recently as the post-Senate perch of GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum, who joined EPPC as a senior fellow soon after losing his reelection campaign in November 2006. The group has paid Santorum at least $217,000 annually to run a program called "America's Enemies," a project devoted to "identifying, studying, and heightening awareness of the threats posed to America and the West from a growing array of anti-Western forces that are increasingly casting a shadow over our future and violating religious liberty around the world."
Santorum has used his perch to comment on a range of U.S. foreign policy issues. In a May 2011 op-ed for the National Review Online entitled "Israel in Peril," for example, Santorum offered an overstated critique of President Obama's Middle East policy, accusing the president of "put[ting] Israel's very existence in peril" and "coddling" U.S. enemies. He also criticized the Obama administration for its responses to the Arab spring uprisings in Egypt and Syria, writing:
"President Obama's immoral Middle East policy goes beyond directly pressuring Israel; see how he has treated other allies and enemies in the region. President Obama told Egypt's Hosni Mubarak he had to leave office but he has coddled Syria, rewarding that rogue state with a U.S. ambassadorship George W. Bush pulled years ago. Going further, despite Syria's much more brutal crackdown on its own people, President Obama has yet to call for Syria's leader, Bashar Assad, to leave power. The confusion to most of us—but not to our or Israel's enemies—is precisely this: Mubarak was an ally, and the key leader in Egypt responsible for maintaining peace with Israel. Assad is an enemy, heading up one of the chief state sponsors of terrorism in the Middle East. President Obama opposed the ally and sided with the enemy."
In other writings, Santorum has issued alarmist statements about Iran's nuclear program, decried the treatment of Christians in majority-Muslim countries, and expressed his support for Mexico's drug war, among sundry other subjects. His work with EPPC has appeared to be on hold during his presidential campaign.
When he founded EPPC in 1976, Ernest Lefever, then a professor of political science, said that part of the role of a "small ethically oriented center" like EPPC was to "respond directly to ideological critics who insist the corporation is fundamentally unjust." President Ronald Reagan's first nominee to direct the State Department's Office for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs, Lefever was regarded as a fierce critic of President Jimmy Carter's human rights policy. Among his purported credentials as a human rights advocate was his white paper "The Trivialization of Human Rights," published in 1978 by EPPC. In testimony before a Senate committee the following year, Lefever set forth his ideas on human rights, recommending that the human rights records of governments receiving U.S. aid should "not be judged primarily by their internal policies but by their foreign policies." This attitude became a standard neoconservative position, one that would influence the policies of both the Reagan administration and, two decades later, the George W. Bush administration.
An embarrassing conflict of interest between the EPPC and Nestle Corp., which had contributed $35,000 to the institute, resulted in such bad publicity that the Reagan administration withdrew Lefever nomination for the human rights post. Critics had campaigned against Nestle for its aggressive marketing of infant formula in undeveloped countries. In a Fortune magazine article, however, Lefever attacked Nestle's critics as "Marxists marching under the banner of Christ." (The anti-Nestle infant formula campaign led to a near-unanimous vote in the United Nations to establish an international code for advertising of breast milk substitutes. U.S. Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick cast the sole vote against the voluntary code on the grounds that it restricted free trade.
In place of Lefever, the Reagan administration nominated Elliott Abrams, who espoused the same instrumentalist position on human rights as Lefever, saying that human rights should be a "policy tool" of the U.S. government. Abrams, who would go on to serve as EPPC's president from 1996 to 2001, entered the Reagan administration scandal-free, but he left a convicted (and later pardoned) criminal for his role in the Iran-Contra scandal.
Lefever was one of the founding members of the 1970s incarnation of the anti-communist Committee on the Present Danger, a group later revived by a number of neoconservatives and hardliners to champion "America's war on terror." Lefever continued to write about ethics and public policy until his death in 2009. His 1998 book, America's Imperial Burden, addressed what he considered to be pertinent moral and ethical questions associated with empire building. According to Lefever, no moral quandaries arise from the U.S. government's imperial status. He considered it the pressing responsibility of the United States, as the world's preeminent power, to export "peace and freedom." If the United States lives up to its historical responsibilities, Lefever wrote, the country will "remain faithful to the vision of America's founders," which he claimed included the belief in a God-given mission to extend its values abroad.
In addition to promulgating the supposed U.S. ethical responsibility to be proficiently imperialist, the EPPC concentrates on U.S.-Middle East relations, arguing that the country has the moral responsibility to support right-wing hawks in Israel. After Elliott Abrams left the center to join the George W. Bush administration, Hillel Fradkin became the center's president. Like Abrams, Fradkin has been closely associated with the Project for the New American Century (PNAC). Fradkin was vice president from 1987 to 1998 of the Bradley Foundation, a leading neoconservative fundraising outfit, and previously worked as a program officer at the Olin Foundation and at the Institute for Education Affairs.
EPPC president as of 2012 is M. Edward Whelan III, who also directs the center's program on "The Constitution, the Courts, and the Culture." As a contributor to the right-wing National Review Online's blog on judicial nominations, Whelan was a leading commentator on the nominations of John Roberts and Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court.
Working with the Republican Congress, the EPPC, together with the Christian Coalition and Family Research Council, proposed the creation of a new permanent governmental commission that would focus on "religious persecution." The main countries of concern listed in the congressional deliberations were China, Sudan, North Korea, Cuba, Laos, Saudi Arabia, and Indonesia, but also condemned Muslim nations more generally. Like the right-wing social conservative groups that argued for its creation, the government's religious persecution commission has served to shift the primary consideration of U.S. human rights policy from a respect for political rights to the treatment of religious minorities, especially in countries that have long captured the attention of social conservatives, such as China and Sudan. Similarly, the commission—like its private counterparts like the EPPC or the Institute on Religion and Democracy—highlights for policy attention the treatment of Jews and Christians by Muslim or communist societies. Given the highly selective character of U.S. human rights policy, the increased U.S. focus on religious rights has done nothing to diminish rising international concerns that the U.S. government accepts the assumption that there is a clash of civilizations, and furthermore intends to defeat all cultural opponents, at home or abroad.
Several EPPC scholars and associates were tapped to serve in the George W. Bush administration, including Abrams (National Security Council), Alex Acosta (attorney general's office), Robert George (Council on Bioethics), and Nina Shokraii Rees (assistant to the vice president).
Leadership and Funding
EPPC's board of directors is chaired by William Burleigh, a former CEO of the E.W. Scipps Company and the director of the Hebrew Union College Ethics Center. Its vice chairman is Robert P. George, director of the James Madison Program at Princeton University. Past board members include the late Jeane Kirkpatrick and Richard Neuhaus.
Much EPPC's funding has come from the so-called "four sisters" of the conservative foundation world: the Olin, Bradley, Smith Richardson, and Sarah Scaife foundations. The center has also been supported by the Castle Rock and Earhart foundations.
EPPC's staff and fellows include Michael Cromartie (EPPC vice president and former special assistant to the Christian Right's Charles Colson), George Weigel, Stanley Kurtz, Eric Cohen, Peter Wehner, and Christine Rosen.