Religious Freedom Ambassador Sam Brownback's Record of Bipartisanship in Support of Human Rights

Former U.S. Senator and Kansas Governor Sam Brownback is the State Department’s new Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom.  Brownback has an extensive track record of working in a bipartisan manner to promote religious freedom and other human rights for people around the globe. He also possesses more extensive government experience than any other international religious freedom ambassador to date. Indeed, Brownback is unusually qualified to propel religious freedom into the mainstream of U.S. foreign policy and national security strategy.

Senator Sam Brownback with then-Senator Barack Obama and actor George Clooney at 2006 press conference to raise awareness of Darfur crisis and genocide. Photo: AP

Senator Sam Brownback with then-Senator Barack Obama and actor George Clooney at 2006 press conference to raise awareness of Darfur crisis and genocide. Photo: AP

During his sixteen years as a Congressman and U.S. Senator, Brownback was a leading advocate for international religious freedom. He was a key sponsor of the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (IRFA). With his help, the Senate passed the act unanimously.  IRFA passed the House with similarly overwhelming bipartisan support and was signed into law by President Bill Clinton. 

The International Religious Freedom Act established a legal mandate for the promotion of religious freedom as an element of U.S. foreign policy. It also created Brownback’s current position in the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom and established the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

A longtime critic of North Korea’s massive human rights violations, including the brutal persecution of people of faith, Brownback was the original Senate sponsor of the North Korea Human Rights Act of 2004. The bipartisan legislation authorized humanitarian assistance for North Korean refugees, many of whom flee religious persecution, and clarified and strengthened their eligibility to seek refugee protections under U.S. law. Five years later, he was one of nine Democrats and eight Republicans who co-sponsored a Senate resolution condemning Iran for “state-sponsored persecution of its Baha’i minority.”

From 2005 to 2007, Senator Brownback served as the Chairman of the Helsinki Commission, a U.S. agency that monitors compliance with the Helsinki Accords and advances human rights throughout the 57-nation region of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.  Article Seven of the Helsinki Accords guarantees religious freedom. The Helsinki Commission’s current chairman, Sen. Roger Wicker, said that in Congress and as chairman of the commission, “Brownback tirelessly fought for the religious freedom and human rights of people of all faiths, at home and abroad—especially those suffering in the gulag of North Korea.”

Ambassador Brownback complemented his work in Congress on religious freedom with signature legislative accomplishments on a host of other critical human rights issues.  In 2000, Senator Brownback played a role in bolstering the U.S. response to global human trafficking through his support for the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. A key player in ensuring a stronger U.S. response to the genocide in Darfur, Senator Brownback was one of the chief sponsors of the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act of 2006.  He also helped address critical humanitarian and human rights problems in Africa, exemplified by his leadership with Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and others in support of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and his co-sponsorship with Sen. Durbin of the Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2008.

During his confirmation hearing in October, Ambassador Brownback received bipartisan praise for his record as a defender and advocate for religious freedom. Maryland’s Democratic Senator Ben Cardin, Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, noted his own frequent partnership with Senator Brownback on human rights issues. Cardin lauded Brownback’s leadership of the Helsinki Commission and affirmed his “great record of working across party lines to get things done.” 

New religious freedom ambassador Sam Brownback has extensive experience working with Democrats and Republicans in Washington to promote religious freedom and other human rights. This should serve as a solid starting point for Brownback's Office of International Religious Freedom to fulfill IRFA's mandate to advance religious freedom as a core element of U.S. foreign policy.

Religious Intolerance, Ethnic Cleansing and Crimes Against Humanity in Burma

Religious Intolerance, Ethnic Cleansing and Crimes Against Humanity in Burma

Burma’s latest wave of religious and ethnic cleansing against its Muslim Rohingya community is, unfortunately, indicative of that nation’s broader religious freedom and human rights challenges.  Indeed, Burma’s religious and ethnic minority communities have known little peace for over a half century.

The latest crisis escalated in August 2017 and has led to the destruction of hundreds of villages and the murder and rape of thousands.  Many around the world have been appalled at these acts as the persecution has also forced the displacement of over 600,000 people, most of whom have fled across the border into Bangladesh.

China's Uighurs and Technology-Enhanced Totalitarianism

China's Uighurs and Technology-Enhanced Totalitarianism

This new video report from the Wall Street Journal provides exclusive interviews and rare images documenting the severe persecution of Uighur Muslims by China’s communist government.  Most of China’s Uighurs live in the northwestern region of Xinjiang.  In Xinjiang, the government has woven state-of-the-art technology in with its tried-and-true methods of totalitarian oppression.

Based in part on a massively intrusive census of residents’ personal information, the communist regime has created a system that assigns a national security score to every individual and family.  It sends those it scores as “unsafe” to prison-like “study centers” for political indoctrination and re-education.

Responding to Religious Repression in Central Asia

Responding to Religious Repression in Central Asia

Across Central Asia, the landscape for religious freedom looks bleak. The tactics deployed by still largely authoritarian governments in the “Stans”—Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and, to a lesser extent, Kyrgyzstan—reflect a continuation of Soviet-era policies of anti‑religious discrimination, intimidation, and control. The harm is not only to individuals and communities who are seeking to practice their faith in peace. It also is a loss to society as a whole because it limits the social contributions of these religious individuals and communities.

Iraq after ISIS

Iraq after ISIS

Over the long haul, nothing is more essential to ensuring the safety and security Iraq’s people, and securing the kind of pluralism that can make Iraq stable, than promoting religious freedom for its non-Muslim religious minorities, and for Iraqi Muslims. 

Military victory over ISIS was a vital first step in creating the physical conditions necessary for stability. The victory has also created a pivotal moment for American diplomacy to strengthen civil society and foster the conditions for long-term freedom and security.

Why is this a pivotal moment?  Not only has ISIS been removed as a military force, but the evidence indicates that its defeat in Iraq and Syria was in part also ideological.

Religious Freedom Diplomacy to Combat Extremism

Religious Freedom Diplomacy to Combat Extremism

In December, I testified before Congress on why more effective international religious freedom diplomacy is of strategic importance for the United States.

My testimony focused on three main points. 

  • U.S. International Religious Freedom diplomacy can improve our nation’s ability to combat Islamist terrorism. A growing body of research shows that more religious freedom abroad can help prevent the spread of terrorism and protect Americans here at home.
     
  • Religious freedom can protect fundamental U.S. interests here and abroad by enhancing political, economic, and strategic stability. Stability grounded in religious freedom can strengthen resistance to religious extremism of all kinds. 
     
  • A religious freedom diplomacy that employs evidence-based self-interest arguments can reduce religious persecution more effectively than do our current diplomatic methods, which are highly rhetorical, reactive, and ad-hoc.

The Philosophical Roots of Jeffersonian Freedom of Religion and Conscience

The Philosophical Roots of Jeffersonian Freedom of Religion and Conscience

At a Religious Freedom Day event at the new Museum of the Bible in Washington, Religious Freedom Institute Senior Advisor Tim Shah spoke on key ideas Thomas Jefferson drew from the Bible when drafting his Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom.  The Virginia Statute is a foundational document that disestablished the Anglican Church in Virginia and led to full religious freedom in America for people of all faiths