Sam Brownback is Wrong for Religious Freedom Ambassador

October 12, 2017

Photo by Gage Skidmore (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Photo by Gage Skidmore (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The passage of the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 led to the creation of the Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom. This position heads the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom -- an office charged with promoting religious freedom as a key objective of U.S. foreign policy.

In July, President Trump announced his nomination of Kansas Governor Sam Brownback to serve as the next religious freedom ambassador. Brownback’s track record of failing to uphold religious freedom for all Americans demonstrates his selectivity in working for religious freedom on behalf of only some faith communities. The next religious freedom ambassador needs to uphold the rights of all people, not just select groups.

Brownback’s Long, Problematic History

As Governor of Kansas, Brownback used religious freedom as justification for the promotion of discrimination. He frequently consulted with Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council. Perkins claims that "Islam is such a danger and American Muslims should not have the same religious freedoms as other citizens." Brownback issued a religious objection executive order, allowing taxpayer-funded social service organizations to deny services to the LGBT community. He also signed anti-Shariah legislation into law, alienating Kansas’s Muslim community by peddling the myth that American Muslims are trying to infiltrate the American legal system.

Brownback’s tainted track record compelled the ACLU of Kansas to release a statement regarding his nomination: “His policies on religious freedom have not been about protecting the constitutional right to worship... they have been about giving people the ability to pick and choose whether they will respect the fundamental human rights of their fellow citizens, based on their own particular religious views.”

Religious Freedom for All

Religious freedom is a core American value enshrined by the Constitution. It is far more encompassing than just ensuring that people of all faiths are allowed to practice their faith free from intimidation and discrimination -- it encompasses freedom of belief, freedom of association, and freedom of assembly. These are freedoms that are the underpinnings of a just and civil society. The promise of religious freedom is one of the reasons that immigrants move to the U.S. to build a new life.

Brownback Will Not Protect Religious Freedom

Last Wednesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a confirmation hearing on Brownback. We provided the Senators with background information and questions that they should pose to Brownback. Senator Tim Kaine questioned Brownback’s position on LGBT protections. Brownback was not clear if he would oppose criminalizing, imprisoning or executing individuals part of the LGBT community out of religious motivation. This was one of the many concerns that we shared with Sen. Kaine’s office prior to the hearing.

The lack of emphasis on democracy and human rights in Brownback's foreign policy is problematic for our religious freedom diplomacy. If the Senate confirms Brownback, the State Department will have a weak figure protecting religious freedom for all. His narrow perspective on religious freedom will impact U.S. diplomatic efforts. Religious freedom for some is not religious freedom at all. His track record on religious minorities will limit his effectiveness when engaging with Muslim-majority countries. We must ensure that promoting religious freedom for all is a staple of our diplomacy; and as such, if confirmed, Brownback must shape his office and agenda to reflect that core American value.



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