Trump taps GOP governor as religious freedom ambassador

President Trump has nominated Kansas governor Sam Brownback for ambassador at-large for International Religious Freedom (IRF). This is the highest-ranking position in American government focused specifically on promoting religious freedom as part of U.S. foreign policy.

As part of the U.S. State Department, the office reports on human rights abuses and holds foreigners accountable for how they treat religious minorities in an effort to help those suffering religious persecution throughout the world.

A key sponsor of the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) of 1998, Brownback has a long record of upholding the far-reaching cause. In fact, IRFA created the office for which he was just nominated.

If his nomination is approved by the Senate, Brownback will work with foreign policy makers throughout the world to preserve religious freedom. It’s unknown when a vote will take place, considering that lawmakers will soon be leaving for their summer recess. However, once his nomination is confirmed, Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer will assume the role as governor.

Brownback remarked to reporters that religious persecution around the world has gotten worse since the office was created, not better. “The level of persecution continues to grow,” he stated.

A longtime legislator, Brownback served as the congressman for Kansas’ second congressional district in 1994 and as U.S. senator for 14 years. Brownback was elected governor of Kansas in 2010.

Critics panned his experimental tax cuts, which had a negative effect on Kansas’ schools and other social programs, with a 2016 New York Times survey proclaiming him “the most unpopular governor.” In a Republican majority, the Kansas legislature recently reversed Brownback’s tax cuts.

In a news conference on Thursday, Brownback talked about the 19 pro-life bills that he has signed into law during his time in office as something of which he is extremely proud.

“The one thing I am most pleased about is that we have really moved as a culture of life state,” Brownback said, adding, “And we are not going back.”

Representative Chris Smith (R-N.J.), chairman of the House panel on global human rights, said Brownback is the right person to lead the office. “He is a man of deep religious faith and will work tirelessly to combat religious persecution and extremism,” said Smith in a statement. “I congratulate him on his recent nomination and urge the Senate to move quickly on his confirmation — religious minorities abroad depend on it.”

Brownback spoke about how his experience with the International Religious Freedom Act in 1998 has prepared him for this potential new role.

He was one of the first to speak out against the atrocities committed against Christians in Sudan and successfully sponsored the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act in 2005. This act made it clear that the Darfur conflict constituted genocide and expanded peacekeeping and logistical aid for the region.

The Genocide Intervention Network has even called Brownback the “Champion of Darfur.”

He also co-sponsored a resolution in 2009 condemning the government of Iran for its state-sponsored persecution of the Baha’i minority in Iran and its continued violation of the International Covenants on Human Rights. And in 2000, Brownback was instrumental in the enactment of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.

A recent report from the Knights of Columbus shows that religious persecution and human trafficking are often linked in certain countries.

As IRF ambassador at-large, Brownback will sit as an ex-officio, non-voting member of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). The USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan U.S. federal government commission that monitors the universal right to freedom of religion or belief abroad. USCIRF shares its vast knowledge and makes policy recommendations to the president, the secretary of state, and Congress. After presiding over Senate oversight hearings of the USCIRF, Brownback is well-acquainted with its function.

According to recent estimates from a Pew Research poll, nearly 3 out of 4 people live in countries with high or very high governmental restrictions or hostilities toward religion; in some regions, many religious communities are threatened with extinction. As an example, ISIS is attempting to wipe out Egypt’s 9 million Christians, targeting Coptic Christians as their “favorite prey.”

comprehensive study conducted by the Religious Freedom Institute and the University of Notre Dame’s Center for Ethics and Culture shows that Christian minorities are currently the most vulnerable, especially in the Middle East.

“The Senate would do well to quickly confirm their former colleague,” wrote Andrea Piccioti-Bayer in an op-ed for The Hill.

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