President Donald Trump’s selection of Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback for the U.S. State Department’s top religious liberty post has drawn praise from advocates for the freedom that is under threat in much of the world.
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Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback has been hailed as an “exceptional” nominee to serve as ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom.
The White House announced July 26 the president’s intention to nominate Brownback as ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom. Brownback welcomed the opportunity despite being in the midst of his second term as Kansas governor.
“Religious Freedom is the first freedom. The choice of what you do with your own soul,” Brownback said on Twitter after the announcement. “I am honored to serve such an important cause.”
If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Brownback will bring vast public service experience and a history of global religious liberty advocacy to the post. He has been Kansas’ governor since 2011 after two years in the U.S. House of Representatives and 15 years in the Senate. While in Congress, he spoke out for religious freedom in various countries and strongly backed the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) that created the post for which he is the nominee.
Russell Moore, the Southern Baptist Convention’s lead religious liberty proponent, described Brownback as “an outstanding choice” who will be “an exceptional ambassador.”
“This ambassadorship is a key piece in our nation’s responsibility to act on behalf of the persecuted around the world, one that requires a seasoned, respected leader who brings conviction and gravity to the work of this crucial post,” said Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “Governor Brownback is exactly this kind of leader.
“He has my prayers and pledge of full cooperation, and I look forward to working with him in the years ahead,” Moore said in a written release. “We need all the diplomatic and intellectual power we can muster in addressing these critical matters of human rights and global security. I urge the Senate to confirm Governor Brownback without delay.”
Montserrat Alvarado, executive director of the religious liberty law firm Becket, said Brownback’s “legacy of promoting and defending religious liberty both in the United States and overseas is strong.”
“His robust experience defending religious freedom for people of all faiths makes him uniquely qualified to lead America’s international defense” of religious liberty, she said in a written statement.
Two former ambassadors-at-large for religious freedom commended Brownback in comments to WORLD magazine.
David Saperstein, who served in the role during the last two years of the Obama administration, called it “a very strong appointment.” Brownback, Saperstein said, “knows the issue very well.”
John Hanford, ambassador-at-large from 2002-09, said Brownback is “someone of real prominence who has a lot of professional experience in dealing with challenges that you would find at a place like the State Department.”
Religious liberty advocates inside and outside Congress had been urging the Trump administration to name someone to the post. While it took six months, Trump still acted sooner than Presidents George W. Bush or Obama did at the beginning of their administrations. Bush took more than nine months to announce a nominee, while Obama required more than 16 months to present his choice.
Brownback’s selection comes at a time when religious freedom continues to deteriorate. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom – also established by IRFA in 1998 – said in its annual report in April that the status of religious liberty globally “is worsening in both the depth and breadth of violations. The blatant assaults have become so frightening – attempted genocide, the slaughter of innocents and wholesale destruction of places of worship – that less egregious abuses go unnoticed or at least unappreciated.”
An April report from the Pew Research Center showed 79 percent of the world’s population lives in countries with “high” or “very high” levels overall of government restrictions on or social hostilities toward religion. Open Doors, which serves the persecuted church overseas, said in its annual report in January the persecution of followers of Jesus continued to rise, with about 215 million Christians undergoing “high, very high or extreme persecution” in the last year in the 50 countries on its watch list.
The ambassador-at-large oversees the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom, which monitors religious liberty conditions overseas, proposes policies in different regions or countries and establishes programs to further freedom of belief.
If confirmed, his priority will be coordinating the Trump administration’s efforts on global religious liberty, Brownback told WORLD Radio. The position, he said, is intended to be a “coordination role of multiple entities” – including those that focus on security, economics and diplomacy. Brownback wants to bring the “various aspects of the administration to focus on religious freedom,” he said.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)