The American interest in promoting international religious freedom (IRF) is both moral and strategic. As Secretary of State Rex Tillerson explained in releasing 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 appointment of this Ambassador-at-Large is a matter of life and death for persecuted religious minorities. The IRF office promotes religious freedom for all people, of all faiths and those with no faith. The annual IRF report documents abuses by foreign governments, terror groups, and individual actors. The leadership of this office is critical for effective diplomacy. The office was influential in persuading the U.S. to recognize ISIS committed genocide against Christians, Yezidis, and numerous other religious minorities.
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. The Middle East and North Africa, China, and Sub-Saharan Africa continue to be hostile and unstable regions. 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. Chinese government officials bulldoze churches, remove crosses, and sentence pastors prison. Boko Haram targets churches and mosques in Nigeria. Minorities in Sudan are marginalized with charges of apostasy and blasphemy.
The U.S. Senate should prioritize and swiftly confirm Governor Sam Brownback as Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom. Governor Brownback is a qualified candidate and brings with him an abundance of experience necessary to be an effective IRF ambassador. As a former U.S. senator and governor, Brownback would be the highest ranking public official to hold the office. Religious freedom is fragile or shattered for more people in our world than it is stable. In this era, confirmation of such a candidate appropriately raises the profile of IRF as a foreign policy priority.