In America, religious liberty is too often the victim of a culture war. But around the world, religious liberty helps reduce the likelihood of there being victims from actual violence. So with great urgency and enthusiasm from the religious liberty community, America’s international advocacy for religious liberty stands to gain a new champion: Governor Sam Brownback.
Kansas Governor Sam Brownback is poised to become the nation's chief religious liberty advocate pending the Senate's confirmation of Brownback to the role of Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, an office established in the 1998 bipartisan mandate known as the International Religious Freedom Act.
The appointment of a former Congressman, Senator, and Governor in Brownback to the post significantly raises the profile of the position, rightly elevating religious liberty as a top priority for American diplomacy and signals the gravity of the role with an established statesman like Brownback at the helm.
America has an active interest in promoting international religious freedom for moral and strategic purposes. As a report from scholars affiliated with the Witherspoon Institute argue, religious liberty is inextricably tied to social stability and ordered liberty. “Religious freedom demands respect not only because of the dignity and worth of individual human beings, but also because of the need for global security and stability,” the scholars argue. “If the world’s nations seek to advance human dignity and security and stability, they must also advance religious liberty. To put it in realist terms, it is in their vital interest to do so.” Hence the office of Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, a crucial post whose responsibility includes traveling the world and being a spokesman for America’s commitment to religious liberty and its benefits to global security.
Religious freedom connects with other fundamental freedoms essential to a stable society: freedom of speech, assembly, and press. Where these freedoms are in decline, so too is religious liberty. A nation will not have liberty unless religious liberty is at its foundation. And this isn’t by coincidence. Religious liberty stands a preeminent foundation to all other liberties, since one’s relationship to God rises before all other relationships, and sets the foundation for how a person orders his or her life.
Tragically, religious repression remains intolerably high throughout the world, and it is in the interest of America’s human rights portfolio to see repression and persecution eliminated. In the interest of promoting human rights and stable government, religious liberty is viewed, rightly, as an essential plank in America's diplomatic efforts to promote liberty and human rights throughout the world.
Every faith faces persecution somewhere around the globe, including some of the most violent in recent history. The evidence is clear from both government and non-government organizations that victims face arrests, abductions, torture, forced marriages, murder, and rape. Middle East-North Africa, China, and Sub-Saharan Africa continue to be hostile and unstable. The Syrian Civil war and ISIS destabilized a region in which the Christian faith began, displacing millions of indigenous Christians and other religious minorities who survive murderous thugs. In China, government officials bulldoze churches, remove crosses, and sentence pastors to prison. Terror group Boko Haram targets churches and mosques in Nigeria. Sudan marginalizes minorities with charges of apostasy and blasphemy. Religious oppression stands at the forefront of human rights abuses across the world, and so religious liberty as a matter of American diplomacy is an urgent matter to resolve these abuses. In each of these instances, the Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom stands at the ready to advocate for religious minorities, who are often defenseless and marginalized.
As Secretary of State Rex Tillerson explained in the release of the 2016 IRF report, “Almost 80 percent of the global population live with restrictions on or hostilities to limit their freedom of religion. Where religious freedom is not protected, we know that instability, human rights abuses, and violent extremism have a greater opportunity to take root.”
The Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom stands as the vanguard and watchman of America’s religious liberty interests around the world, so the Senate should confirm Governor Brownback without delay. His experience and qualification as an American statesman speak for itself, and his appointment would make him the highest-ranking official to date to occupy the post.
An Ambassador Brownback would be a welcome presence in America’s effort to promote peace, global security, human rights, and self-government while also reducing religious oppression and undermining the growth of religiously-motivated terrorism.