As has been widely rumored, President Trump intends to nominate Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback to be the next U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom. The White House made the announcement Wednesday, noting that Brownback “worked actively on the issue of religious freedom in multiple countries and was a key sponsor of the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998.”
Brownback, 60, tweeted Wednesday evening: “Religious Freedom is the first freedom. The choice of what you do with your own soul. I am honored to serve such an important cause.”
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Robert P. George, former chairman of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, welcomed the announcement.
“I’m happy that this extremely important post is being filled and glad that the nominee is Governor Brownback,” George said Thursday morning. “Religious liberty has always been a high priority for him, and he will be a powerful voice for persecuted people and prisoners of conscience. His commitment to the cause combined with his extensive experience in Washington, DC will also make him an effective advocate for international religious freedom within the executive branch. The ambassador-at-large serves as a kind of internal lobbyist for religious liberty and the rights of conscience in those counsels in which our nation’s foreign policy is formed and executed.”
George, the McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University, said that along with Daniel Mark chairing the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and Brownback as Ambassador-at-Large, “current and possible future victims of persecution will truly have friends in high places.”
Nina Shea, who also served on the International Religious Freedom commission, said that as a U.S. senator, Brownback played a leading role in defending human rights and, in particular, religious freedom internationally.
“I worked with him then to end the religious genocide in Sudan,” Shea said Wednesday evening. “He is committed, hardworking and smart. I have no doubt he will work to save lives and preserve minorities facing religious genocide and persecution. His leadership is desperately needed for Iraq and Syria and throughout the world.”
The 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative called Brownback a “strong choice” for the position and urged the U.S. Senate to confirm him swiftly.
“He brings tremendous experience, stretching back to the original International Religious Freedom Act of 1998,” said Elijah Brown, executive vice president of the religious freedom organization. “He’s well-respected on Capitol Hill and will bring clout to a position and an issue that is all too often overlooked, to the great detriment of many around the world.”
With Christianity facing extinction in the Middle East and other religions facing persecution in many areas of the world, Brown said, “this is a role that needs to be quickly filled.”
Brownback was elected governor of Kansas in 2010 after serving as a U.S. senator from the state for 14 years. He had made an unsuccessful bid for the 2008 Republican nomination for president.
If confirmed, he will serve as head of the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom, charged with promoting religous freedom as a key objective of U.S. foreign policy. The office monitors religious persecution and discrimination worldwide, recommends and implement policies in respective regions or countries, and develops programs to promote religious freedom, the State Department website says.
According to AP, Brownback grew up on a family farm in eastern Kansas, trained as lawyer and was the state’s agriculture secretary from 1986 to 1993, taking a year off to serve as a White House fellow. He was elected to the U.S. House in 1994, part of the so-called Republican revolution that gave the GOP control of both the House and the Senate for the first time in 40 years. He became a Catholic in 2002 after having been a Methodist.
He was an early advocate of U.S. action to stop genocide in Sudan’s Darfur region and visited Congo and Rwanda as a senator to decry humanitarian crises and call for better coordination in foreign aid programs, AP said. He had strong stances as a senator against abortion and same-sex marriage.