We Do Not Need A U.S. Religious Ambassador

GAGE SKIDMORE is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The Appointment of Brownback Shows How Pointless This Role Is

Former Kansas Governor Sam Brownback has become the 5th United States Ambassador for International Religious Freedom. It has become a popular story since the decision required Vice President Pence to vote to break a tie on his appointment.

But the real issue is why do we even have this role? This is a relatively new post, created in 1999. Its reported purpose is to help protect the ability of people all over the world to express their personal religious beliefs. The best-regarded ambassador was David Saperstein, the last ambassador, who was actively involved in campaigns to stop the unlawful detainment of religious figures and to ban “blasphemy laws” which made the practice of certain religious traditions illegal.

But why does this need a specific post? The state department can handle these issues or ambassadors of specific countries can do this where specific human rights abuses are selected. There is no other human right that has its own ambassador: housing, clean water, worker’s rights, LGBT rights, the list goes on. Why makes religious freedom more important than those other rights? In fact, this can have the opposite effect. It symbolically demonstrates that religion deserves special priorities over other human rights. Which is the basis for the abusive laws, that religion trumps all other rights.

The position has a dangerous risk of cultural imperialism. It would be so easy for this position to protect a certain type of religious faith or to attack a different faith. Never has this been truer than with the appointment of Brownback. The former Kansas Governor has a history of choosing a conservative view of Catholicism in his political views. The Human Rights Campaign published an official oppositional letter about Brownback’s persecution of the LGBT community. He is also a member of the controversial Opus Dei organization, a militant branch of Catholicism.

In a time where the Trump administration has made religious freedom synonymous with protection of Christian rights, can we actually see a possible situation where Brownback will fight for Imams?

The Ambassador for International Religious Freedom is, at best, a redundant position that is inefficient. At worst, a tool for religious favoritism that will hurt our other diplomatic efforts.

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