Trump’s New Religious Freedom Chief Has His Work Cut Out For Him

By Andrea Piccotti-Bayer, reprinted courtesy of The Hill.

© Getty
Christian minorities are currently the most vulnerable religious minority, especially in the Middle East, where they are suffering, dying, or fleeing persecution in the very birthplace of Christianity. © Getty

The nomination of Governor Sam Brownback for ambassador at-large for international religious freedom (IRF) provides a bright light of hope for those suffering religious persecution throughout the world.

In Governor Brownback, President Trump has nominated a superbly qualified champion of international religious freedom possessing both the proven commitment and understanding of this crucial issue.

This is the highest ranking position in the American government focused specifically on promoting religious freedom as part of U.S. foreign policy, reporting on human rights abuses, and holding foreign actors accountable for how they treat religious minorities.

Brownback was a key sponsor of the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) of 1998. IRFA was watershed legislation at the time in recognizing the important leadership of the United States in advancing global religious freedom.

During his long senatorial career, including serving for eight years on the Senate committee for foreign relations, Brownback was among the first voices to speak out against the atrocities committed against Christians in the Sudan and was successful in sponsoring and pushing through the passage of the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act in 2005. This act not only stated the United States government’s position that the Darfur conflict constituted genocide but also expanded peacekeeping and logistical supports for the region.

In recognition of his great contribution, the Genocide Intervention Network called Brownback the “Champion of Darfur.”

In 2009, then-Sen. Brownback co-sponsored a resolution 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. He was also instrumental in the enactment of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act in 2000. Brownback’s work in combating human trafficking is particularly salient as the recent report of the Knights of Columbus shows that there is often a link between religious persecution in a country and the human trafficking of individuals from that country.

As IRF ambassador at-large, Brownback will sit as an ex-oficio, non-voting member of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). 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. Brownback presided over Senate oversight hearings of the USCIRF and knows the commission’s vital role in informing the world community and U.S. decision makers.

Brownback will have his work cut out for him. Religious persecution across the globe is vast and growing fast. Typical estimates indicate that almost 3 out of 4 people in the world live in countries with high or very high governmental restrictions or hostilities toward religion. Many religious communities are threatened with extinction in certain regions.

The Islamic State earlier this year released a video railing against Egypt’s 9 million Christians, singling out Coptic Christians as the terror group’s “favorite prey.” This video was horrifically followed up with terror during Coptic worship services and the brutal attack on Coptic Christians traveling by bus toward a monastery where at least 28 were killed, several of whom were children.

The sad reality, as documented in a comprehensive study conducted by the Religious Freedom Institute and the University of Notre Dame’s Center for Ethics and Culture, is that Christian minorities are currently the most vulnerable, especially in the Middle East, where they are suffering, dying, or fleeing persecution in the very birthplace of Christianity.

President Trump’s choice of Governor Brownback as IRF ambassador at-large is a welcome reminder of the importance this administration — and our country — places on religious freedom.

The Senate would do well to quickly confirm their former colleague.

Andrea Picciotti-Bayer is legal advisor for The Catholic Association Foundation, which is dedicated to being a faithful Catholic voice in the public square.

U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom USCIRF Sam Brownback The Hill