Ilhan Omar, Joaquin Castro demand removal of USAID religious freedom adviser for social media posts


Democratic Reps. Joaquin Castro and Ilhan Omar called for the "immediate removal" of a religious freedom adviser at the U.S. Agency for International Development for his past comments they said demonstrate a "historical pattern of prejudice against the Islamic faith and the Muslim population."

The appointment of Mark Kevin Lloyd, who worked as the Virginia field director for President Donald Trump's 2016 campaign, drew immediate opposition because of his posts on social media, including one that called Islam a "barbaric cult."

"Mark Kevin Lloyd, who has a long history of promoting hateful, Islamophobic rhetoric has no business promoting religious freedom abroad," said Omar, who became one of the first Muslim women elected to Congress in 2018. "Someone who doesn't recognize the importance of religious diversity in our country cannot credibly promote religious freedom internationally."

Castro said it was wrong to reward Lloyd's "pattern of prejudice and bigotry against those of the Islamic faith." He noted that 32% of the countries that USAID works with are majority Muslim, "and all of those countries need our help."

"I fear with Mr. Lloyd at the helm those countries will face further discrimination. I strongly urge USAID to remove Mr. Lloyd from his position as USAID's Religious Freedom Adviser effective immediately," Castro said in a statement.

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After the June 2016 Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting in which a Muslim man pledging allegiance to the Islamic State killed 49 people, Lloyd shared a meme on Facebook that said people should be forced to eat bacon before being allowed to buy a gun, The Associated Press reported in August 2016. AP also reported the June 30 post where he called Islam a cult, as well as one in which he said Muslims were seeking to impose Sharia law in America and that "those who understand Islam for what it is are gearing up for the fight."

Castro and Omar also say Lloyd shared articles that endorsed China's repression of the Muslim Uyghur minority and a post that claimed former President Barack Obama was connected to the Muslim Brotherhood. They say in another one he "notes that people who believe Islam is a peaceful religion fail to understand history."

All of the posts have since been removed.

"Far from an isolated incident of poor judgement, Mr. Lloyd's behavior openly and frequently displays his contempt for a religion that counts nearly two billion followers, and constitutes the second largest religion in the world," Omar and Castro wrote in a letter to acting USAID Administrator John Barsa.

Acting USAID spokesperson Pooja Jhunjhunwala told USA TODAY the agency does not comment on oversight matters. Jhunjhunwala confirmed receipt of Castro and Omar's letter and said "USAID always works closely and cooperatively with Congress."

In May, a USAID spokesperson told AP that "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."

Castro and Omar called that response "woefully inadequate."

USAID is a development agency established in 1961 with the passage of the Foreign Assistance Act. The agency's website says USAID has "the twofold purpose of furthering America's interests while improving lives in the developing world."

As part of its effort to promote democracy and human rights, the agency works to promote religious freedom.

"Advancing international religious freedom is a major foreign policy priority of the United States in order to reduce levels of religious persecution, bias and discrimination, reduce religion-related violent extremism and terrorism, and track and prevent potential mass atrocities through early warning systems," it says.

The agency cites work it has done in the Middle East, including $370 million it spent since 2017 to support religious and ethnic minorities in the region from persecution by the Islamic State and other actors.

Several anti-discrimination organizations have also called for Lloyd's removal because of his past social media activity.

Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt told AP Lloyd's appointment was "particularly offensive and inappropriate" and called for Lloyd to "apologize immediately" for his posts.

"Yet even with an apology, 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," Greenblatt said.

"There is no room in any government position - let alone a position meant to protect religious freedoms - for those who promote bigotry. Lloyd is clearly unfit to serve a diverse, multi-faith society," said Robert McCaw, government affairs director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, in a statement.

Contributing: The Associated Press

Omar: Rep. Ilhan Omar's father dies of coronavirus-related complications

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ilhan Omar, Joaquin Castro want USAID adviser out for 'hateful' posts


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