By Michael Ireland, Chief Correspondent for the ASSIST News Service (www.assistnews.net)
WASHINGTON, DC (ANS – July 28, 2017) — Reaction to President Trump’s appointment of Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas as the next Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom has been greeted with mostly-positive response from the Christian community.
International Christian Concern (ICC) www.persecution.org said it was pleased at the nomination. “This ambassadorship was created by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998.
“The Ambassador is tasked with leading The Office of International Religious Freedom (IRF) and fulfilling its mission of promoting religious freedom as a core objective of US foreign policy. The IRF office actively monitors religious persecution and discrimination around the world and is responsible for recommending especially egregious violators of religious freedom as Countries of Particular Concern.”
Sam Brownback has been the governor of Kansas since 2011. Prior to that post, he served as a US Senator from 1996-2011 and as a member of the House of Representatives for Kansas’ 2nd Congressional District from 1995-1996. While a member of Congress, he worked actively on the issue of religious freedom in multiple countries and was a key sponsor of the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998.
ICC said Brownback’s record of service and experience in the realm of religious freedom “should serve to give him a strong base of knowledge in the execution of his new duties at the State Department.”
Isaac Six, ICC’s Advocacy Director, stated: “ICC applauds the selection of a strong supporter of religious freedom like Gov. Sam Brownback for the post of Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom.
“The filling of this vital post send the right message to the international community that religious freedom is a strong priority for the United States and that we will not turn a blind eye to those who suffer persecution for their fundamental religious convictions.
“We look forward to working with Mr. Brownback to further the cause of respect and tolerance for all people of faith around the world.”
Institute on Religion and Democracy (www.TheIRD.org) Religious Liberty Director Faith J.H. McDonnell commented: “Brownback left a hole in Capitol Hill when he departed. He was one of the key defenders of the persecuted and oppressed around the world: a strong advocate for international religious freedom, for the marginalized people in Sudan, for human rights in North Korea and China, for rescuing victims of sex-trafficking, for the unborn, and for so many more issues that either gets you loved or hated.
“The appointment of Governor Brownback as the Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom is something for which every person who cares about religious freedom around the world — for those of any faith and of no faith — should be grateful to President Trump for this appointment. He could not have chosen a fiercer defender of the persecuted and oppressed, or a more humble, gentle servant to the persecuted and oppressed.
“Brownback is neither reluctant nor fearful. He will bring conviction and confidence into his position as Ambassador-at-Large. He will confront the evil that harms people of faith, and he will speak with candor to President Trump and others in his Administration.”
Tina Ramirez, a foreign policy expert on human rights and the president of Hardwired Global, issued the following statement in response to President Trump’s nomination of Brownback for the post.
“As a former Senator, Governor Sam Brownback was a leading advocate for religious freedom globally,” she said. “And as an experienced diplomat, he will ensure that religious freedom is treated with the significance required by the Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act of 2016 within the State Department.”
Ramirez said: “President Trump faces a world where, according to the Pew Research Center, 79% of the world’s population lives in countries that severely repress religious freedom. A decade ago that number was 67% and each year the problem grows worse. Governor Brownback has an opportunity to help President Trump change that trajectory and get religious freedom back on the map in more countries.”\
She continued: “As the new Ambassador for International Religious Freedom, I urge Governor Brownback to begin by renewing America’s political resolve to recognize the genocide in Iraq against persecuted religious communities and take the necessary steps to make ‘never again’ possible for more people globally, regardless of their faith.”
Religion News Service www.religionnews.com reported that Brownback’s fellow Republicans called the job a good fit for him, and some conservative religious groups had pushed for the appointment.
“Sam has always been called to fight for those of all faiths, and I am glad he has been given an opportunity to answer this call,” said Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts, a fellow Republican.
Brownback, 60, served in the U.S. Senate before his election as governor in 2010 and was an early advocate of U.S. action to stop genocide in Sudan’s Darfur region, and visited Congo and Rwanda to decry humanitarian crises and call for better coordination in foreign aid programs.
RNS says that Brownback grew up on a family farm in eastern Kansas, trained as lawyer and was the state’s agriculture secretary from 1986 to 1993, taking a year off to serve as a White House fellow. He was elected to the U.S. House in 1994, part of the so-called Republican revolution that gave the GOP control of both the House and the Senate for the first time in 40 years.
Two years later, he won election to the Senate, capturing the seat held by Bob Dole, who’d resigned to run for president. Brownback won a full six-year term in 1998 and another in 2004.
According to RNS, Brownback has long been a favorite of Christian conservatives for his strong stances as a U.S. senator against abortion and same-sex marriage. He also gained some attention as a vocal critic of the entertainment industry. He started running in 2007 for the Republican presidential nomination but dropped out before primaries and caucuses began in 2008.
Brownback converted to Catholicism in 2002 after having been a Methodist, and his religious devotion and commitment to helping the poor in other nations has led him in the past to break the mold of classic conservatives.
On Twitter, Brownback said: “Religious Freedom is the first freedom. The choice of what you do with your own soul. I am honored to serve such an important cause.”
In the Washington, D.C. – based position, Brownback would be responsible for advocating for religious freedom worldwide.
The Kansas Republican Party said in a statement on Twitter that: “Brownback’s international credibility for human rights, refugee and religious work will dramatically increase the ambassadorship’s influence.”
Protecting Religious Freedom
The State Department’s Office of Religious Freedom was created in 1998 by Congress to protect against religious persecution abroad, said Nina Shea, a senior fellow at the nonprofit Hudson Institute, where she directs the Center for Religious Freedom.
“That office identifies basically a short list of the world’s list of the world’s worst religious persecutors,” Shea said. “It issues an annual report on the status of religious freedom in virtually every foreign country in the world and as part of that exercise, there’s a list of the countries that are the world’s worst abusers.”
The office can make policy suggestions and recommendations for State and for the U.S. government, such as sanctions against individuals within a government or sanctions against a country at large.
Legislation passed in December and signed by President Barack Obama strengthens the clout of the office by bolstering the staff and requiring the ambassador to report directly to the Secretary of State.
“It has a small staff but the way it develops its reports … it’s the gold standard in the world on this kind of thing,” Shea said.
Former Virginia Congressman Frank Wolf drafted the bill that created the ambassadorship for religious freedom in 1998. He now serves as a distinguished senior fellow at the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative.
Wolf said Brownback’s appointment will raise the profile of the post and bring more attention to religious freedom concerns. “I think it’s a great appointment,” Wolf said in an interview on Wednesday. “Sam is such a good guy. This job is really made for Sam. On all these issues he’s been there before almost anybody else.”
Wolf said he and Brownback were the first two members of Congress to go to Darfur, Sudan, during the genocide there, and when they came back they pushed to have the U.S. recognize the violence there as a genocide.
“I served with Sam in the House and when he went over the Senate we worked on these issues,” Wolf said. His appointment “ought to send a message around the world that America cares very, very deeply (about religious freedom).”
Brownback’s own faith will play a big role in his new position, Wolf said. “That’s kind of what drives people who care deeply about these things do it because of their faith.”
The ambassador position has been around since 1998, when Congress passed the International Religious Freedom Act. That legislation created a religious-freedom office in the State Department and established a separate watchdog body, the U.S. Commission on International Freedom. Both bodies largely exist to make lists: Each compiles an annual report about the status of religious freedom around the world, including countries where it’s under threat, and submits those findings for the president’s use.
Rabbi David Saperstein, who headed the Office for International Religious Freedom until January 2017, was the first non-Christian to hold the post.
Pending approval by the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Mr. Brownback will take up this post effective immediately.
Photo captions: 1) Gov. Sam Brownback. 2) Academy Award winning actor George Clooney, center, flanked by Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., right, and Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., takes part in a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington, Thursday, April 27, 2006 to bring awareness to the situation in the Darfur region of Sudan. (Photo/Mannie Garcia via Lawrence Journal World). 3) Michael Ireland.
About the Writer: Michael Ireland is a volunteer internet journalist serving as Chief Correspondent for the ASSIST News Service, as well as an Ordained Minister, and an award-winning local cable-TV program host/producer who has served with ASSIST Ministries and written for ANS since its beginning in 1989. He has reported for ANS from Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Israel, Jordan, China, and Russia. You may follow Michael on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Michael-Ireland-Media-Missionary-234951783610/ and on Twitter at @Michael_ASSIST. Please consider helping Michael cover his expenses in bringing news of the Persecuted Church, by logging-on to: https://actintl.givingfuel.com/ireland-michael
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