Donald Trump has just announced that he has appointed Sam Brownback as ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom. “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.”
Choice, when used by the religious right, is an interesting word. When the religious right talks about choice, they tend to mean choice for them. The ‘choice’ to not bake cakes for LGBT people, for instance. Or the ‘choice’ to retain marriage for heterosexuals. And of course, the choice to take all the top jobs and exclude minorities.
And while Brownback has promised to protect the religious liberties of all worldwide, it’s difficult to see how he can do that within the context of a Trump Presidency, or if he’ll even try. Trump can’t seem to say the word Islam without prefixing it with the word ‘radical’ and has spent the early part of his Presidency trying to stop people from countries where people are facing religious persecution from coming to the US.
In a statement, the Family Research Council said “the United States must not neglect our responsibility to follow up on efforts to protect Christians, Yezidis, and others from the horrific violence in the Middle East” and that “we must exercise even more vigilance to ensure victims of genocide get the protection they need and deserve.” With most Yazidis in Iraq and Syria, however, that vigilance is unlikely to extend to actually inviting them to America.
Nor does Mr Brownback have any special governing credentials. His biggest claim to fame is turning Kansas into a massive experiment in low-taxation and privatization, an experiment that has turned him into one of the least popular governors in the whole country.
So if Brownback is unlikely to be defending the rights of atheist mothers in Pakistan, and his tenure as a governor was an economic disaster, what will he be doing with his time?
Oh yes, the “Religious Freedom” stuff. While governor in Kansas, Brownback, wait for it, lobbied for Congress to outlaw dilation and evacuation abortions, removed discrimination protections for LGBT workers, called for a Constitutional ban on flag desecration, and signed a declaration calling upon the people of Kansas to ask “Holy God to bring healing and restoration.” Apparently Saturdays can get pretty rough in Kansas.
While I hope that Brownback will use the position to advocate for the rights of religious minorities abroad, it seems much more likely that he will use the position to shut down Religious Freedom at home. Everything about his past record indicates that he sees Religious Freedom as a stick to beat minorities with, completely failing to see the irony in this position.
There are very real threats to religious minorities around the world. Atheists are being murdered in Bangladesh and imprisoned in Saudi Arabia. Despite Trump, the power that America can bring to bear on human rights issues still matters. Based on his record at home, Governor Brownback cannot be the right person to advocate for the rights of persecuted people abroad.