President Donald Trump has formally nominated Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback to serve as the State Department’s ambassador at large for international religious freedom. Brownback has served as Kansas’ governor since 2011. His name has been in the mix for the post for weeks, before announced his pick. If confirmed, Brownback will serve effectively as the head of the Office of International Religious Freedom within the State Department. That office is charged with promoting religious freedom as a key objective of U.S. foreign policy, according to the State Department’s web site. The office monitors “religious persecution and discrimination worldwide, recommend and implement policies in respective regions or countries, and develop programs to promote religious freedom.” Before serving as Kansas governor, Brownback represented the state in Congress — first as a representative in 1995 and 1996, then as a senator from 1996 to 2011. While in the Senate, in particular, Brownback focused on religious freedom and helped shape the International Religious Freedom Act, which passed in 1998.
The Kansas City Star adds:
“Religious Freedom is the first freedom,” the governor said on Twitter Wednesday evening. “The choice of what you do with your own soul. I am honored to serve such an important cause.” …“Senator Brownback will, I sincerely hope, see this position as contributing to the national security of the United States,” said Tom Farr, the president of the Religious Freedom Institute in Washington, D.C. “Advancing religious freedom in our foreign policy will help Christians and other religious minorities around the world who are suffering persecution,” said Farr, who served under two of the previous ambassadors. “It will at the same time undermine religion-based extremism and terrorism. He has an extraordinary opportunity, at low cost, to advance the fundamental national security interests of our nation.” The last person to hold the position was David Saperstein, a rabbi and attorney who held the position from January 2015 to January 2017.
Meanwhile, a story in the New Republic from 2005 described Brownback’s deep Christian faith—including his passion about pro-life causes—and mentioned his conversion to Catholicism:
In 2001, Brownback led a Senate delegation to the Vatican to award the Pope a Congressional Gold Medal. The group was bipartisan—in addition to Brownback, Catholic Republicans like Rick Santorum and Bob Smith of New Hampshire came along, as did Barbara Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat. The highlight of the trip was the Pope’s private receiving line. Brownback would introduce each senator to John Paul II, and the three would chat privately for a few minutes. When it was Smith’s turn, Brownback turned to the Pope and said, “This is Senator Bob Smith of New Hampshire. He’s the leading pro-life advocate in the U.S. Senate.” Smith then returned the favor. “The man sitting next to you has done more than his fair share,” he said. Brownback was beaming. Brownback’s conversion the following year made him both a Catholic and a member of the rarefied flock of John McCloskey, priest to Washington’s conservative establishment. McCloskey had previously converted conservative journalists Bob Novak and Larry Kudlow, and Brownback’s “sponsor” was his fellow senator, Santorum. As with most secret societies, the accounts of Brownback’s admission to this circle are remarkably thin. No one describes it as much more than a “quiet ceremony” officiated by McCloskey in a K Street chapel. …Brownback had taken a passing interest in Catholicism as early as 1997, when he teamed up with Ted Kennedy to arrange a Congressional Gold Medal for Mother Teresa. In the process, he’d begun reading up on Catholic teaching, including the writings of John Paul II. Brownback is what you might call a God geek. He is endlessly fascinated by all things religious. “If it’s a spiritual thing, he loves it,” says Congdon, Brownback’s pastor at TBC, where he still attends service after Mass most Sundays. Not surprisingly, Brownback’s crash course on Catholicism seemed to stick with him. “It started working in the background,” [longtime campaign manager David] Kensinger speculates. “If these people are who they are, and I want to have a soul more like theirs, what helped them to become more like they are?” Things proceeded in this vein for years. Paul Ryan, now a representative from Wisconsin, served as Brownback’s chief of staff through his early days in the Senate. Long after he left the job, Ryan, who is Catholic, would periodically get calls from his former boss. The two men would talk about Catholic doctrine and the intellectual foundations of Catholicism. Over time, these musings began to fill out the gaps in Brownback’s religious worldview. “I just think he found an articulation of the Christian faith in the Catholic tradition that he felt was more fully developed,” says Brownback’s friend Deal Hudson, a fellow convert and former Catholic outreach adviser to the Bush White House.