(CNSNews.com) – President Trump’s decision to nominate Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback to the post of ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom was applauded by religious freedom advocates and colleagues Thursday, while an Islamic lobby group expressed alarm, accusing the conservative Republican of anti-Muslim actions.
“Great pick,” commented Southern Evangelical Seminary president Richard Land. “He cares passionately about the issue and he’ll be the highest-profile person ever to hold that ambassadorship.”
Land served for almost a decade on the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), a statutory watchdog established by the same 1995 legislation that created the ambassador-at-large post.
He noted that Brownback had been “very instrumental in getting USCIRF put in place.”
“It’s great news and it shows President Trump’s commitment to international religious freedom,” Land added.
Dr. Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, called Brownback “an outstanding choice” and urged the Senate to confirm the nomination without delay.
Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kans.), who succeeded Brownback as senator from Kansas in 2011, said the governor “has long been a fighter for the persecuted” and would be a “tireless, effective” ambassador.
“Sam has always been called to fight for those of faith,” tweeted the state’s other senator, Republican Pat Roberts. “Glad he has been given an opportunity to answer this call.”
The former senator has a strong track record of advancing pro-life and religious freedom legislation, but the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) pointed to measures taken as governor of Kansas.
CAIR cited Brownback’s signing into law in 2012 a bill designed to block any use of Islamic law (shari’a) in Kansas courts or government agencies; and a move last year aimed at preventing the federal government from resettling in Kansas refugees from Syria or other countries posing potential security concerns.
CAIR’s government affairs director, Robert McCaw, said Brownback’s “history of rushing to sign anti-Islam legislation designed to vilify Muslims in Kansas state courts should under any normal circumstances disqualify him from the office of U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom.”
“Only under the Trump administration would someone so opposed to the constitutional rights of an American faith community be appointed to safeguarding international religious freedom,” McCaw said.
The holder of the ambassador-at-large post is meant to be the executive branch’s leading proponent of religious freedom around the world. Instead, critics in Congress have long argued that its importance was played down.
A major concern has been the fact that the ambassador-at-large reports to an assistant secretary (in the bureau of democracy, human rights and labor) – rather than to the secretary of state, as do other ambassadors-at-large.
During the Obama administration, the post was vacant for almost half the time (43 months out of 96). The previous ambassador, Rabbi David Saperstein, left in January, since when the post has again been vacant – to the dismay of lawmakers from both sides of the aisle.
Welcoming Thursday’s announcement, Isaac Six, advocacy director for International Christian Concern, said “the filling of this vital post sends the right message to the international community that religious freedom is a strong priority for the United States and that we will not turn a blind eye to those who suffer from persecution for their fundamental religious convictions.”
Brownback served in the Senate for 14 years, having won a special election in 1996 and further terms in 1998 and 2004. In 2008 he ran for the Republican presidential nomination.
His Senate career was characterized by strong advocacy for human rights, religious freedom, pro-Israel and pro-life causes. A sample follows:
--In 2010 he blocked President Obama’s nomination of Francis Ricciardone as ambassador to Turkey, arguing that in his previous ambassadorial post in Cairo he had not been aggressive enough in promoting democracy and respect for human rights. (Obama subsequently appointed Ricciardone during a congressional recess.)
--In 2009 Brownback led an effort to remove the waiver used by successive presidents to avoid moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.
--That same year he sponsored legislation targeting businesses involved in Iran’s energy sector; and urged then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to raise the case of an imprisoned Christian dissident with the communist regime in Beijing.
--In 2007 Brownback introduced legislation banning all human cloning, and led efforts to retain an amendment prohibiting federal funding for any agency supporting coercive abortion.
--That year also saw him introduce a resolution establishing benchmarks for North Korea’s removal from the state-sponsors of terrorism blacklist, and another calling on the administration to refer to the killing of hundreds of thousands of Armenians a century ago as “genocide.”
--In 2005, Brownback called on then-U.N. secretary-general Kofi Annan to resign unless the world body acted decisively to stop the carnage in Sudan’s Darfur region.
--Brownback advocated for years for North Korean refugees, holding hearings and calling press conferences. He co-sponsored the North Korea Human Rights Act which lay the groundwork for refugees to be able to resettle in the United States. It was signed into law by President Bush in late 2004.
--In 2004 he earned China’s ire by calling for the rescinding of the “Basic Law,” Hong Kong’s mini constitution. Brownback said it was “not drafted with the consent of those it governs, and it contains too many provisions that ultimately undermine the freedoms of each Hong Kong citizen.”
--In 1999, Brownback urged President Bill Clinton to take a firmer line with then-Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat over anti-Jewish incitement in official media and school textbooks.
He also authored a resolution that year calling on Clinton to oppose a unilateral declaration of an independent Palestinian state.