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'Religious Freedom Is the First Freedom': Trump's Pick to Fight for Religious Liberty


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President Donald Trump is nominating Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback as the ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom. 

If confirmed by the Senate, he'll run the State Department's office which promotes religious freedom through foreign policy. 

He and his staff would be charged with investigating religious freedom violations around the world. He would then submit a report to inform the president about those violations. 

Brownback tweeted: "Religious freedom is the first freedom. The choice of what you do with your own soul. I am honored to serve such an important cause."

David Curry, CEO of Open Doors USA, says Brownback is a "strong choice." He believes Brownback will provide Christians with vital representation. 

Open Doors USA is an organization that supports persecuted Christians all over the world. 

"This gives us a unique spokesman on these critical issues to Christians and people who are concerned about religious freedom around the world," Curry told CBN News. "He (Brownback) has a strong background in this." 

He says 200 million Christians are currently experiencing persecution around the world, but hopes Brownback can use the United States' relations with partner nations to address the problem.

"(Christian persecution) is a major issue, and we want to see this brought to the forefront in trade deals," he said. "We had deals with India and Saudi Arabia. This wasn't talked about." 

"There are things we can do with people who are players in the international community that we're not doing yet, and they're restricting their peoples' religious freedom," Curry added. 

Brownback was elected the 46th governor of Kansas in 2010 and re-elected in 2014. Prior to serving as governor, Brownback served as a U.S. senator from 1996-2011.  

The Republican was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives during the Republican Revolution of 1994 when "The Contract With America" was signed by GOP candidates for Congress. It led to the party's control of Congress after the election. 

Brownback, along with the late Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa.., former Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., and religious freedom lawyer Nina Shea, were among those instrumental in pushing the passage of The International Religious Freedom Act through the U.S. Congress. It was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in October 1998. 

The law established the office of Special Adviser on International Religious Freedom within the National Security Council, and a bipartisan U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. That commission submits an annual report on global international religious freedom which identifies countries that are hot spots of religious persecution.  

The law requires the U.S. government to take action against religious freedom violators. The president is given some flexibility on the actions he must take and the punishment choices range from public ostracism to economic sanctions.

The 1998 Act also established the position of Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom within the U.S. State Department.

Traditionally the ambassador reports to the secretary of state. It's unclear if President Trump will change that practice and require Brownback to report directly to him.

But Curry believes Brownback's "prime reputation" could give him better access to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and the president. 

"I think (Brownback's appointment), it's going to elevate the position and make this the critical position it really needs to be," he said. "Because these issues are central to what's going on around the world."

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About The Author

Gary Lane

Mr. Lane currently serves as International News Director and Senior International Correspondent for CBN News. He has traveled to more than 120 countries—many of them restricted nations or areas hostile to Christianity and other minority faiths where he has interviewed persecution victims and has provided video reports and analysis for CBN News. Also, he has provided written stories and has served as a consultant for the Voice of the Martyrs. Gary joined The Christian Broadcasting Network in 1984 as the first full-time Middle East Correspondent for CBN News. Based in Jerusalem, Gary produced