New religious freedom adviser sparks furor over past anti-Islam comments

(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File) In this May 2, 2017, file photo, Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO and national director of the Anti-Defamation League, speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington. Muslim American groups and the Anti-Defamation League are decrying the U.S. Agency for International Development’s hiring of Mark Kevin Lloyd, a religious freedom adviser who has reportedly made past anti-Islam comments. Greenblatt said Lloyd's appointment was “particularly offensive and inappropriate” in light of his past anti-Islam comments and urged him to “apologize immediately.”

New York • Some Muslim American groups are calling for the dismissal of a newly appointed religious freedom adviser for the U.S. Agency for International Development, citing past online posts that disparage Islam on his social media.

The Anti-Defamation League also has decried the appointment of Mark Kevin Lloyd. He started with the agency this week, according to The Washington Post, which first reported the hiring of the Virginia field director for President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign.

Lloyd shared a post calling Islam “a barbaric cult” that year, The Associated Press reported at the time, and shared a meme — days after a mass shooting in Orlando by a Muslim pledging allegiance to the Islamic State group — saying people should be forced to eat bacon before they can buy firearms.

“How could one properly serve as USAID’s Religious Freedom Adviser while espousing a horrifyingly Islamophobic track record?” Wa’el Alzayat, CEO of Emgage Action, a Muslim American advocacy organization, said in a statement. “We are calling for Lloyd’s resignation — because Islam cannot be the exception when assessing one’s ability to advise on religious freedoms for a government agency.”

In response to questions from the AP seeking a confirmation of Lloyd’s hiring and comment on the concerns it sparked, a USAID spokesperson said: “Mark Lloyd is a consummate professional who served his country honorably in the Navy. The comments he made four years ago were in reference to radical Islam, not Islam.”

The spokesperson said Lloyd also has experience working for a faith-based provider of medical equipment and relief assistance globally. “During this current COVID-19 pandemic, his experience will be important as we work with faith-based organizations and others in our global response.”

Jonathan Greenblatt, the ADL’s CEO, said Lloyd’s appointment was “particularly offensive and inappropriate” in light of his past anti-Islam comments and urged him to “apologize immediately.”

“Yet even with an apology,” Greenblatt said, “it is not clear how somebody with such views about one of (the) world’s main faiths and its adherents can serve as a fair arbiter on crafting U.S. development assistance programs protecting religious freedom for all.”

For the initial AP report in 2016, Lloyd declined to talk without the Trump campaign’s permission, citing his nondisclosure agreement with the campaign.

Other Muslim organizations have also demanded Lloyd be removed from the position.

“There is no room in any government position — let alone a position meant to protect religious freedoms — for those who promote bigotry,” said Robert McCaw, government affairs director at the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization. “Lloyd is clearly unfit to serve a diverse, multi-faith society,” he added in a statement on the group’s website.

Madihha Ahussain, special counsel for anti-Muslim bigotry at civil rights group Muslim Advocates, said in a statement: “Someone who has broadcast this kind of hateful and dangerous rhetoric should have no place in our government and certainly should not be advising a federal agency on religious freedom.”

Emgage Action is preparing to send a coalition letter to USAID’s acting administrator, John Barsa, asking for Lloyd’s removal. Among the groups that had signed onto the letter as of Thursday night are CAIR, the Muslim Public Affairs Council and the Asian American Advocacy Fund.

Fam reported from Winter Park, Fla.

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