Former Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback will be sworn in as ambassador at-large for international religious freedom Thursday, and people are already lining up to tell him how he should handle the job.
In his October statement before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Brownback said he would “press the leaders of other countries for the release of religious prisoners and for needed reforms.”
“If confirmed, I pledge to use my energies and the range of my diplomatic tools to strengthen international religious freedom issues and concerns in U.S. foreign policy,” he told the committee.
Here’s a roundup of a few things religious freedom advocates and others say Brownback should prioritize in his new role.
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Call for prisoners to be freed
On Jan. 26, the Freedom From Religion Foundation — which opposed Brownback’s confirmation — called for him to seek the freedom of an Iranian protestor who was arrested after taking off her hijab and waving it above a crowd to protest veiling laws.
Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, said this would be Brownback’s “first test.”
The woman in question has already been freed. But Brownback might still have the opportunity to seek freedom for prisoners in Iran, as another woman was arrested for a similar protest.
Focus on persecuted minorities
Frank Wolf, a former Republican congressman who helped create the ambassadorship position, told the Washington Post that a first priority for Brownback should be dealing with the plight of the Rohingya Muslims in Burma.
Sen. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma, echoed that when he tweeted that “America must stand w/ Yezidis, Coptic Christians, Muslims, & other religious minorities who are persecuted in nations like in Iraq, Syria, China, & Burma. Sam Brownback will do a fantastic job leading our efforts as Ambassador of Int’l #ReligiousFreedom.”
Take a broad approach
Bill Tammeus, former faith columnist for the Kansas City Star, wrote on his blog that Brownback should “use this excellent opportunity to challenge world leaders to protect and preserve religious freedom for people everywhere” rather than adopting “a narrow approach to the job that would place most of the emphasis on advocating positions most in harmony with people who call themselves religiously conservative.”
In August, Judd Birdsall, managing director of the Cambridge Institute on Religion and International Studies who previously served in the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom, recommended that Brownback “emphasize early and often that religious freedom is a universal principle, not identity politics.”
Influence foreign policy
Open Doors USA, which advocates for persecuted Christians worldwide, wrote that rising discrimination against Christians and other religious minorities around the world creates “a need for the core principles of international religious freedom to inform U.S. foreign policy at the highest levels.”
The Secular Coalition for America, which also opposed Brownback’s confirmation, wrote that Brownback should learn about and defend non-theists, particularly because many countries have “blasphemy laws” or even the death penalty for atheists.
“Now more than ever, the United States needs to be a beacon of hope for persecuted religious minorities and nontheists around the world,” said Larry Decker, executive director of the coalition, in a news release. “It is our hope that Ambassador Brownback will recognize these historic challenges and rise to the occasion."