President Donald Trump has nominated Kansas governor Sam Brownback to fill the position of ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom. Standing up for religious freedom is an essential part of the United States’ foreign policy, especially in a global environment plagued by extremism and persecution of religious minorities.
This ambassadorial position was established by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998. The ambassador-at-large must meet with foreign religious and political leaders to craft programs for safeguarding religious freedom and oversee the Office of Religious Freedom within the State Department. The office describes its mission as “promoting religious freedom as a core objective of U.S. foreign policy.” Furthermore, the office “monitor[s] religious persecution and discrimination worldwide, recommend[s] and implement[s] policies in respective regions or countries, and develop[s] programs to promote religious freedom.”
Annually, the office releases a report on the state of religious freedom worldwide. In addition, the office can list nations as “Countries of Particular Concern” for violations of religious freedom, which could result in economic sanctions from the U.S.
Last year, Congress passed legislation strengthening the provisions found in the 1998 religious-freedom law. The new legislation mandated that the ambassador-at-large report directly to the secretary of state, and it introduced a new category for rating levels of religious persecution: “entities of particular concern.” This new category enables the office to label non-government actors such as terrorist groups as violators of religious freedom. Finally, the new law established a “designated persons list,” which will consist of individuals who severely violate the religious freedom of others.
Despite his unpopularity as governor, Brownback is a fine selection. A convert to Roman Catholicism, Brownback brings his personal faith to the table, and he has been described by a colleague as “a man of convicted compassion and courteous candor who — as a function of his own deeply held Christian beliefs — will work tirelessly for people of all faiths and none.”
During his time in the Senate, Brownback was a determined advocate for religious freedom. He supported the previously mentioned International Religious Freedom Act early in his tenure as a senator. A few years later, he assumed a leading role in encouraging the U.S. government to develop a stronger response to the genocide in Darfur.
He and then-senator Barack Obama urged passage of the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act, which targeted perpetrators of the genocide with sanctions. In 2010, he proposed a resolution condemning Iran’s persecution of religious minorities. Christianity Today notes that Brownback was “1 of only 3 members of Congress to receive a perfect score on the International Religious Freedom Scorecard for his efforts during Obama’s first two years in office.”
These are only a few examples of Brownback’s longstanding commitment to protecting religious freedom. Tom Farr, the president of the Religious Freedom Institute and a former director of the Office of International Religious Freedom, told Catholic News Agency that Brownback possesses “a vigorous understanding of the meaning and value of religious freedom for all” and has “the ability to communicate that understanding, both as a universal moral value and as a political institution that can serve the interests of every society.”
Protecting religious freedom is a vital component of America’s effort to foster liberty abroad. Additionally, there is a clear moral dimension to being an ambassador for religious freedom: It demands speaking on behalf of oppressed religious minorities around the world. Brownback has already shown that he will speak out against persecution and try to implement robust responses to genocide. If he is confirmed by the Senate, it is imperative that he bring a similar mindset to his new role.
David Curry, president of Open Doors USA — an organization that advocates in support of persecuted Christians — has argued that religious freedom is “a bedrock of healthy societies” and that “the persecution of Christians and the rise of religious intolerance are often lead indicators of regions and countries tipping into chaos.” Promoting religious freedom is thus critical to national security: Unstable countries are breeding grounds for radicalism and hostile non-state actors.
The next ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom will more than likely have to deal with an as-yet-unforeseen array of challenges. Without a doubt, Brownback has the experience and dedication necessary to navigate those challenges effectively.
— Jeff Cimmino is an editorial intern at National Review.