Brownback ambassadorship sets back religious freedom

1Sam BrownbackWhat a pity the new U.S. ambassador for religious freedom lacks a basic understanding of the concept.

Yesterday, Vice President Mike Pence broke a 49-49 tie in the Senate to confirm Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback as the latest U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom.

FFRF warned senators about Brownback's zealous history, speaking about him with several members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. A former evangelical, Brownback converted to Roman Catholicism with a vengeance. He is connected with the hardline and secretive Catholic sect Opus Dei. "There was a desire to stop Brownback," reports FFRFs Director of Strategic Response Andrew L. Seidel, "but also a sense that getting him out of Kansas, where he has already done so much damage, was not the worst outcome."

As a result, Brownback will unfortunately lead the Office of International Religious Freedom. Problematically, Brownback fails to understand that the central tenet of religious freedom is a secular government. There can be no freedom of religion unless the government is free from religion.

His gubernatorial record shows that he has a distorted view of religious freedom. In 2015, he issued an executive order stating: "The recent imposition of same sex marriage by the United States Supreme Court poses potential infringements on the civil right of religious liberty." He regularly used his public office to promote his personal religion. For instance, he proclaimed a "Day of Restoration" asking "every citizen of our state to join in asking a Holy God to bring healing and restoration." He once appeared in a commercial for a private religious group, ReignDown USA, asking citizens "to join with me . . . to pray to God, in humility and in unity to ask for his favor and assistance in these difficult times."

During Brownback's confirmation hearing, Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., asked him some questions about the governor's record on LGBTQ issues. The senator was unimpressed with the answers: "I was deeply disturbed that when pressed during his confirmation hearing, Governor Brownback could not even bring himself to muster a resounding no, that it is never acceptable for a government to imprison or execute an individual based on their sexual orientation."

Now that Brownback is in charge, the same attitude will permeate the Office of International Religious Freedom.

"We're concerned with this confirmation and will be watching Brownback closely," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.

The Office of International Religious Freedom is responsible for promoting religious freedom as a foreign policy goal and for producing an annual report that focuses on violations of religious freedom from every country. In the waning years of the Obama administration, that report increasingly focused on the plight of the nonreligious living under fundamentalist regimes.

Brownback replaces Ambassador Rabbi David Saperstein, who was a friend to minority religions and the nonreligious, even attending the retirement party of Barry Lynn when he stepped down as president of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. The change will certainly not make it any easier for FFRF's charitable arm, Nonbelief Relief, to help rescue atheist and secular writers and bloggers who are threatened around the world.

Brownback's confirmation does not bode well for freethinkers globally.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

FFRF has received a 4 star rating from Charity Navigator

FFRF is a member of the Secular Coalition for America

FFRF privacy statement