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'Ground Zero Mosque': A Conservative Undermines His Own Crusade
Should a fellow appointed to a federal commission created to promote religious tolerance overseas be a member of the opposition to the Cordoba House project, which has been dubbed the "Ground Zero mosque" by its critics?
Leonard Leo, one of Washington's little-known but influential insiders, is a longtime conservative activist and a top official of the Federalist Society, a right-wing legal outfit. During the George W. Bush administration, he was one of a quartet of conservative power brokers dubbed the Four Horseman, who held daily conference calls to shape judicial strategies for the White House. He's also chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), an organization that is solely funded by the federal government to monitor and encourage religious freedom abroad. It is not a powerful agency; its annual budget is $4.3 million. (Leo and his fellow commissioners do not receive salaries.) But his position on the commission does afford Leo, who was appointed to the USCIRF by Bush in 2007, and his fellow commissioners perches of prominence. They release reports decrying religious repression overseas. They issue press releases. They attend conferences. They testify before Congress. On the commission's website, Leo describes the commission's noble mission: "to advance the visibility of and serious thinking about how the United States can best address" the challenge of religious "intolerance." He notes, "In short, we are committed to ensuring" that religious freedom "extends to all corners of the globe."
But perhaps not to Lower Manhattan. As my colleague Nick Baumann and I recently reported, Leo, when not overseeing this religious freedom commission, is a director of Liberty Central, a Tea Party-related group that is energetically opposing the Cordoba House project.
Conservative activist Virginia Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, last year launched Liberty Central, with the aim of connecting the Tea Party movement to Washington's conservative establishment. She has declared that President Obama is guiding the country toward "tyranny," and the group's mission, according to its website, is to "return to a government that adheres to our core Founding Principles -- limited government, personal responsibility, individual liberty, free enterprise, and national security." And Thomas recruited Leonard Leo to be a director of her group.
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