Former Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, now ambassador at-large for international religious freedom, said Wednesday that he plans to begin his new role by focusing on the plight of Christians in Northern Iraq and Syria as well as the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.
He spoke Wednesday with Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council, on Perkins’ radio show “Washington Watch.”
In the interview, Perkins touted Brownback’s track record on human rights and international religious freedom. Brownback sponsored the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act and condemned persecution of religious minorities such as the Baha’i while in the U.S. Senate.
Brownback told Perkins that Vice President Mike Pence is “personally vested” in the issue and recruited Brownback for the position.
“It’s perhaps never been worse than it is now as far as the level of religious persecution that is taking place,” Brownback told Perkins.
The Trump Administration needs to use all the tools available to “push religious freedom around the world for all people of all types of faith,” he said.
Brownback said he would start by focusing on Northern Iraq and Syria, where Christians have been killed and driven out of their homes. He has already met with a Yazidi woman whose family was killed in Iraq’s Ninevah Plains and with members of a Syrian Orthodox Christian community.
The other area of focus will be on the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, Brownback said.
During his confirmation process, some feared that Brownback would not advocate for Muslim minorities as he would advocate for Christian minorities.
In Myanmar, the Muslim minority is being driven out in what the United Nations is calling “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” Some have said that the Rohingya ought to be an early focus for Brownback.
Brownback also mentioned the divided confirmation vote in the U.S. Senate, during which Pence had to step in twice to break a tie. That fight to get him through the Senate showed the administration thought he was the right man for the job, Brownback said.
Democrats had opposed Brownback’s nomination partly because he rescinded an anti-discrimination protection for LGBT state workers during his time as governor.
The radio interview conducted with Perkins comes a week after Brownback was sworn in. The Family Research Council, which Perkins heads, advocates for socially conservative policies, including lobbying against same-sex marriage and LGBT adoption.
LGBT-rights groups also spoke out against his nomination, saying Brownback might use religion to oppose LGBT equality.
Perkins and Brownback did not talk about Brownback’s record on gay rights.
The ‘first right’
Brownback echoed his remarks after his nomination when he called religious freedom “the first human right, what you do with your own soul.”
It’s also smart foreign policy, since terrorism decreases and security increases in places where people are free to practice their faith, he said.
Perkins added that religious freedom affects economic freedom and growth.
“This administration is vested in this and I think now what you’re going to see is them willing to use teeth that are in the laws to be able to push religious freedom like it’s never been pushed before,” Brownback said.
You can listen to the full interview online.