Thomas Farr, from left, the first director of the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom, joins two former ambassadors-at-large for international religious freedom, Rabbi David Saperstein and the Rev. Suzan Johnson Cook, and the current ambassador-at-large, Sam Brownback, at an event commemorating the 20th anniversary of the International Religious Freedom Act on Nov. 9, 2018, in Washington, D.C. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

‘Push it hard': Brownback addresses religious freedom on law’s 20th anniversary

WASHINGTON (RNS) — The U. S. ambassador for religious freedom called for renewed activism on protecting faiths around the globe on Friday (Nov. 9) as religious liberty advocates gathered in the nation's capital to mark the 20th anniversary of the International Religious Freedom Act.

“We should push and we should push it hard,” said Sam Brownback at the event sponsored by the Religious Freedom Institute and Baylor University, which drew more than 100 people to the Hyatt Regency Washington hotel on Capitol Hill.

“You get this one right — you get religious freedom right — a lot of other freedoms bloom,” said Brownback. “You get this one wrong, a lot of other freedoms contract.”

Brownback, a former U.S. senator and governor of Kansas who was confirmed in January as the fifth U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, was a key sponsor of the 1998 law that called for the creation of a bipartisan U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, charged with producing an annual report on the worst violators of religious liberty. The measure also directed the State Department to create the ambassador position that Brownback holds today.

In July, Brownback and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hosted the first-ever Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom at the State Department in Washington, which was attended by representatives of 84 countries.


RELATED: Brownback opens religious freedom summit with plea to fight persecution


On Friday, Brownback recalled with pleasure the broad range of people of faith and no faith at the ministerial. He commented on the variety of religious headdresses at the gathering, including some that had “funny points, to me.”

Sam Brownback, U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, speaks at an event commemorating the 20th anniversary of the International Religious Freedom Act on Nov. 9, 2018, in Washington, D.C. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks


 This image is available for web publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

“We had all sorts of hats — a number of ’em I didn’t understand — but I loved the color, I loved the shape,” he said. “I loved the hats because all the hats were together on this thought: We all agreed we should be free to choose, free to be protected from the state or from the mobs that would infringe upon our right of religious freedom.”


RELATED: State Department religious freedom summit ends with commitments, critiques


He said the State Department plans to announce a second ministerial and said nine other countries are also planning regional religious freedom summits.

Brownback said he hopes some of the “older minds” on religious freedom will work with the next generation to gain new activists for their cause.

“We need a religious freedom movement in the United States,” he said. “My thinking is it needs to go specific. It needs to start at Baylor or other university campuses.”

He proposed that such a movement could start with campus visits from speakers who have experienced persecution firsthand, such as Rohingya Muslims who have lived in refugee camps after being forced to flee Myanmar. Citing Tibetan Buddhists, Uighur Muslims and Christian house churches, all of which have suffered limitation or persecution in China, Brownback suggested others might work together and say, “Let’s free China from religious persecution.”

Bob Seiple, the first U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, speaks after being recognized at a Washington, D.C., event commemorating the 20th anniversary of the International Religious Freedom Act on Nov. 9, 2018. Thomas Farr, right, the first director of the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom, listens to Seiple. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks


 This image is available for web publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

The daylong event featured, besides Brownback, all four of his predecessors as ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom. Bob Seiple was honored as the first person in that role and was joined at the gathering by John Hanford, the Rev. Suzan Johnson Cook and Rabbi David Saperstein.

The anniversary observance was sponsored by Baylor in Washington and the Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion along with the Religious Freedom Institute, a Washington-based organization that funds scholarship and on-the-ground action teams to advance religious freedom.

Comments

  1. i wonder what his definition of “religious freedom” means? Does it include the freedom to have no religion? Does it include the freedom to hold beliefs about homosexuality, abortion, social services, that are at odds with what some other religious people believe? Does it include the freedom to demand that the laws governing our civil society be based upon civil principles NOT religious principles? Such as the freedom of homosexuals to marry and the freedom of women to have access to the birth control of their choice or a safe abortion if that is what they choose and the freedom of Transgender folk to use the restroom they are most comfortable in?

    OR does his definition of “religious freedom” mean the freedom to discriminate against others based upon your religious beliefs?

  2. The best thing that can be said for Brownback is that he is no longer destroying Kansas.

  3. Funny pointed hats. Sheesh. Yet another diplomatic bull in a China shop from the Trump administration.

    Sam Brownback was my senator and, then, governor for a long time. He’s a likable enough fellow and, I believe, well-intentioned, but let’s be honest. The guy leaves a trail of incompetence wherever he goes. His legacy almost single-handedly cost the GOP the governorship this week, and in Kansas that’s hard to do.

    Just play nice, Sam, and try to avoid the pointy hat comments, okay?

  4. The RFRA was a poorly conceived piece of legislation done to override the only decision Antonin Scalia made which was even slightly intellectually honest (Employment Div v. Smith).

  5. There is no requirement in either international law or American law that “laws governing our civil society be based upon civil principles NOT religious principles”.

    If you are in favor of such a requirement, read Article V of the Constitution for the United States of America and see if you can get an amendment along those lines passed.

  6. Much the same can be said about you, sans “no longer”.

  7. I suggest you reread the First Amendment. AND consider this. The Constitution states that there shall be no religious requirement for the office of the president. That is an effort to make our nation a nation based on civil laws NOT religious laws. Then consider the 1st amendment called the establishment clause–requiring the establishment of a State religion. Again that is the attempt to have our laws based on civil NOT religious principles.

  8. The Constitutional provision against religious tests:

    Article Six

    “The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

    plainly states that no Federal officeholder or employee can be required to adhere to or accept any particular religion or doctrine as a prerequisite to holding a federal office or a federal government job.

    It has literally NOTHING to do with an effort to make our nation a nation based on civil laws NOT religious laws.

    Like the First Amendment it is aimed directly at what was in place in England: an establishment of a specific state religion adherence to which was required of every officeholder, all other religions being disadvantaged to a greater or lesser extent.

    It does NOT prohibit the people or legislators from bringing their religious convictions, or lack thereof, to the public square, basing legislation on those convictions or lack thereof, AS LONG as the result is not establishing a state religion.

  9. I never said they can’t bring their religious convictions to the public square. Just that laws that affect the rights of all people must be based on civil principles NOT religious ones. This is NOT a Christian nation, never has been and hopefully never will be.

    The most basic Civil principle should also be the principle that religious folk should believe in–equal rights for all people. Our Constitution says that “ALL men are created equal”–ALL men means all human beings, it doesn’t mean some–that some human beings have greater rights than others and some can be treated as second class citizens.

    This means that homosexuals and transgender folk should be treated equally as heterosexual and non-transgender folk. This means that women should have the right to make their own health care decisions whether about birth control or abortions.

    Christians are no longer in the majority in this country and IF they want to have their rights to be Christians respected they MUST respect the rights of others to reject their beliefs, their rights to choose NOT to be Christians and that includes their rights to live their lives according to higher moral principles than many Christians seem to follow!

  10. “I never said they can’t bring their religious convictions to the public square. Just that laws that affect the rights of all people must be based on civil principles NOT religious ones.”

    AND you are wrong.

    For an example, were the United States to overturn Roe v. Wade by amendment, and as a result one or more states outlawed abortion outright, the notion that the result could be overturned because one or more religions object to abortion on religious ground would go nowhere.

    The reason why is that the ONLY prohibition is against an establishment of religion, not against religious principles brought to bear on the legislative process by various citizens.

    The difficulty you’re running into is that despite the protestations, you basically abhor, detest, and dislike Christians and some others who agree with them.

    That’s a personal gripe, not a principle of law, constitutional or otherwise.

  11. From a guy who doesn’t grant religious “freedom” to any sect except fundamentalist Christians.

  12. Brownback makes some very good points.

    One I particularly like is the need to do apostolate as we exercise our religious freedom.

    Our practice of our relgious freedom should be done so well, so generously, so naturally, so confidently that it should attract and help others. And they will be drawn to the good of the exercise of religious freedom, and then they too will take up the good work of the exercise of such freedoms, and the movement will grow stronger and more lively, fanning out into other countries.

  13. Religious freedom, as I sure it has been stated somewhere here, does not mean freedom from religion.
    That would mean freedom from advertisement if the principle were applied evenly.

    If people are talking about iPhones and Android, arguing which is the best, and before that, Windows over Apple, why is religion any different?

    Its all ADVERTISING.
    The freedom to advertise, place ads, billboards, commercials, store displays.

    Christianity, ADVERTISE the good news.

  14. “The reason why is that the ONLY prohibition is against an establishment of religion, not against religious principles brought to bear on the legislative process by various citizens.”

    Prayer in public schools, 10 Commandments on government property, creche scenes on government property and Christian crosses on government property have all been consistently ruled unconstitutional since the 1960s.

    Your interpretation has not been accepted by the Supreme Court.

    The abortion debate is an interesting case. It is certainly religious. There is major support only by conservative Catholics and the conservative evangelicals. However, the proponents of anti-abortion legislation are willing to kill and humiliate people who disagree. After all, they call abortion doctors, “murderer.” That’s incitement.

    Madison and Jefferson opposed religion – whether full establishment or singular doctrine – because it is profoundly disrespectful of the rights of conscience to other people. This disrespect breeds civil unrest and hatred. As noted, anti-abortionists kill. Jefferson’s instincts were correct.

    Madison spelled out fifteen reasons in his Memorial and Remonstrance of 1785.

    “Because we hold it for a fundamental and undeniable truth, “that Religion or the duty which we owe to our Creator and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence.”2 The Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate. This right is in its nature an unalienable right. It is unalienable, because the opinions of men, depending only on the evidence contemplated by their own minds cannot follow the dictates of other men: It is unalienable also, because what is here a right towards men, is a duty towards the Creator.”

    You comment, “The difficulty you’re running into is that despite the protestations, you basically abhor, detest, and dislike Christians and some others who agree with them.” No, the difficulty we’re having is that you detest the idea of religious ideas surviving on the basis of their own merit, without government support. You detest the idea that other people also have a right to their religious convictions, even if they differ from yours.

  15. “Prayer in public schools, 10 Commandments on government property, creche scenes on government property and Christian crosses on government property have all been consistently ruled unconstitutional since the 1960s.”

    It is certainly odd that you picked four examples which the courts have NOT consistently ruled unconstitutional. In all four the courts have considered circumstances, purposes, and other aspects to determine whether a specific instance is unconsitutitonal.

    Apparently YOUR interpretation has not been accepted by the Supreme Court.

    And this is why you cite Madison and Jefferson rather than actual Supreme Court decisions.

    There is not a single position that I hold in the public square that I do not support on grounds other than religious belief, nor any religious “ideas” that I might have that subsist on government support.

    But if I DID have religious “ideas” on some proposed law or policy, nothing prohibits my working for them, the government from adopting them or passing them into law, UNLESS the result establishes a religion.

  16. Ok, let’s be more specific.

    Kids can pray in public school IF it is not led by school personnel and is not disruptive. The point is to avoid government sponsorship of religious events. Do I really need to cite court cases? Can do if necessary.

    Same with the other examples. If the purpose of the cross, etc is to endorse / advance religion, it is unconstitutional. Another example: bible reading in school is fine as part of a comparative religion class but is unacceptable as a way of starting the day.

  17. If the point is to avoid government sponsorship of religious events, your position that it may not pass a law which happens to coincide with one or more religious beliefs just sank.

    Basically you don’t have a point as a matter of law, and my assessment of Ms. Humphreys’ “Just that laws that affect the rights of all people must be based on civil principles NOT religious ones.” is spot on.

    Do have a nice day.

  18. Also wonder if “religious freedom” allows the current U.S. administration to seize control of property belonging to the Catholic Church in Texas to build empty-headed #45’s wall?

  19. alwayspuzzled used to destroy kansas ? i think your retort got away from you and means nothing .

  20. I think you should reread both the original comment and my comment sequentially rather than completely mucking it up.

  21. In 1947, Justice Black designed the Establishment Clause Test in the *famous* Everson v. Board of Education case. In his majority opinion, the Establishment Clause of the 1st Amendment means this:

    Neither a state nor the federal government can set up a church.
    ***Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions nor prefer one religion over another.***
    Neither can force nor influence a person to go to or to remain away from church against his will or force him to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion.
    No person can be punished for entertaining or professing religious beliefs or disbeliefs, for church attendance or non-attendance.
    No tax in any amount, large or small, can be levied to support any religious activities or institutions, whatever they may be called or whatever form they may adopt to teach or practice religion.
    Neither a state nor the federal government can openly or secretly participate in the affairs of any religious organizations or groups and vice versa.

    http://www.firstamendmentschools.org/resources/handout1a.aspx?id=14077

    This was supplanted in 1971 with the Lemon Test in Lemon v Kurtzman.

    Does the challenged law, or other governmental action, have a bona fide secular (non-religious) or civic purpose?
    Does the primary effect of the law or action neither advance nor inhibit religion? In other words, is it neutral?
    Does the law or action avoid excessive entanglement of government with religion?

    The law fails if the answer to any of the questions is “no.”

    The Lemon Test was last applied in 2017 and is presumably still current.

    The establishment debate that you refer to has, as far as I can tell, never been judicially accepted.

  22. Justice Hugo Lafayette Black is remembered primarily for espousing anti-Catholic views and being a member of the Ku Klux Klan in Alabama.

    The primary long-term effect of Everson v. Board of Education, 330 U.S. 1 (1947) was incorporation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, thus applying it to states.

    Black’s exact words were:

    “The ‘establishment of religion’ clause of the First Amendment means at least this: Neither a state nor the Federal Government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions or prefer one religion over another. Neither can force nor influence a person to go to or to remain away from church against his will or force him to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion. No person can be punished for entertaining or professing religious beliefs or disbeliefs, for church attendance or non-attendance. No tax in any amount, large or small, can be levied to support any religious activities or institutions, whatever they may be called, or whatever form they may adopt to teach or practice religion. Neither a state nor the Federal Government can, openly or secretly, participate in the affairs of any religious organizations or groups and vice versa. In the words of Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect ‘a wall of separation between Church and State.’”

    So, “The establishment debate that you refer to has, as far as I can tell, never been judicially accepted” sinks like a rock with the very case you cite.

    A law, for example, against prostitution is compatible with the religious beliefs of a majority of religions in America.

    However such a law does not set up a church, aid one religion, aid all religions or prefer one religion over another, nor force or influence a person to go to or to remain away from church against his will or force him to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion, or punish anyone for entertaining or professing religious beliefs or disbeliefs, or church attendance or non-attendance, or support any religious activities or institutions, whatever they may be called, or whatever form they may adopt to teach or practice religion, or cause a state or the Federal Government to, openly or secretly, participate in the affairs of any religious organizations or groups and vice versa.

    My critique of Ms. Humphreys’ interpretation stands.

  23. “Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions or prefer one religion over another.” This is absolutely incompatible with your interpretation. The Lemon Test calls out doctrinal cases, not just full establishment churches.

    I think you’ve gotten tangled up in your interpretation because there are so many gray areas. The First Amendment also runs contrary to the way many people wish to view their own – absolutely correct and direct from God, himself – religious views.

    In the 1800s, the country was still run by Protestants. There were often required King James Bible readings and the bible was often used to teach reading. The practice was regarded as non-sectarian – until Catholics started streaming into the country. Similarly, Sunday closing laws, etc. were regarded as non-sectarian until it started interfering with people’s lives. They were repealed as an unacceptable religious intrusion.

    We are still working through this process. Some areas are obviously sectarian, like prayer in public schools, religious benedictions at graduation ceremonies, etc. They are being scrubbed from government support whenever identified. Many, many other areas are not clear cut and society is working its way through them on a case-by-case basis.

    The principle is clear: government has no business supporting religious doctrine. The application is much more difficult and law can only move as fast as the people can change.

    Segregation and slavery were supported biblically. It was finally recognized as a civil liberties issue and religion was forced to take a back seat. However, our roots are deeply embedded in bigotry and aggressive religionist aspirations to control everyone else. Today, conservative religionists want to control sexual minorities. The tide of history is recognizing it as a civil liberties issue and conservative religionists will again be pushed back.

    Abortion is another example where the problem is primarily the power of evangelical and Catholic voters inflicting their doctrines on other people. Doesn’t matter if this issue is transparently religious because of the power dynamics and the blending of conservative religion with the Republican Party. Religion has become politics.

  24. I have gotten nothing “tangled up”. You don’t have your legal ducks in a row.

    Apparently your sermon is “The principle is clear: government has no business supporting religious doctrine.”, which is variation on Humphreys’ spiel.

    It happens to be untrue. We’ll take:

    “Abortion is another example where the problem is primarily the power of evangelical and Catholic voters inflicting their doctrines on other people. Doesn’t matter if this issue is transparently religious because of the power dynamics and the blending of conservative religion with the Republican Party. Religion has become politics.”

    for our example.

    Yes, many people with religious beliefs oppose abortion.

    Yes, many people without religious beliefs oppose abortion.

    The Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade did not strike abortion laws because it advanced “religious doctrine”.

    Those people with religious beliefs who oppose abortion are permitted to try to change the laws – First Amendment.

    Those people without religious beliefs who oppose abortion are permitted to try to change the laws – First Amendment.

    If they are successful, the courts do not consider going in to do a “scrub” and see what was in the minds of the advocates for the law. That appears to be your script, and Humphreys’, and the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s, but it is balderdash. The Supreme Court does not read minds.

    They consider whether the law sets up a church, aids one religion, prefers one religion over another, forces or influences a person to go to or to remain away from church against his will or forces him to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion, or punishes anyone for entertaining or professing religious beliefs or disbeliefs, or church attendance or non-attendance, or supports any religious activities or institutions, whatever they may be called, or whatever form they may adopt to teach or practice religion, or causes a state or the Federal Government to, openly or secretly, participate in the affairs of any religious organizations or groups and vice versa.

    So laws which happen to coincide with this or that religion’s beliefs, such as laws against stealing, murder, assault, and so on – all right out of the Ten Commandments – pass constitutional muster since they do none of the things in the last paragraph.

    Your project is to find an actual case where the Supreme Court found a law unconstitutional because it “supported religious doctrine”.

  25. These cases involve prayer in public schools and evolution v creationism:

    McCollum v Board of Education (1948)
    Engel v Vitale (1962)
    Abington School Districct v Schempp (1963)
    Lemon v Kurtzman (1971)
    Wallace v Jaffree (1985)
    Lee v Weisman (1992)
    Santa Fe Independent School District v Doe (1995)
    Epperson v Arkansas (1968)
    McLean v Arkansas Board of Education (1982)
    Edwards v Aguillard (1987)
    Freiler v Tangipahoa Parish Board of Education (1997)
    Kitzmiller v Dover (2005)

    I think you’d be hard pressed to find any significant civilization that didn’t have laws concerning murder, etc.

    Abortion was probably a poor example because of its complexity. However, let me make the point again. Abortion (from conception) is a religious crime recognized by only a few sects but they are large, politically powerful, and physically aggressive. Yes, some non-religious people also object but these are trivial in comparison. The issue is driven by religionists. And it has torn society apart.

    Slavery was justified on biblical grounds. And it tore the country apart.

    Jefferson’s and Madison’s and John Leland’s concern that injecting doctrine into law would cause hatred and civil strife were accurate.

  26. In not ONE of your cases did the Supreme Court rule a law unconstitutional on the grounds it “supported religious doctrine”.

    So, back to your drawing board to actually find a case that proves what you’re trying to prove.

    You’re stuck in the same rut that Edd Doerr and the Freedom From Religion Foundation are stuck in – citizens are permitted to have religious beliefs and use them to judge what laws would be desirable to create a society in which they wish to live.

    You, he, Ms. Humphreys, and they may not like it, but that’s the way it works.

    So, either a case or we’re done.

  27. What you have proven to this point is that I am right, but for some reason you don’t get that, smoh.

  28. “Our practice of our religious freedom should be done so well, so generously, so naturally, so confidently that it should attract and help others.”
    Yet Brownback could not bring himself to do this very thing in the state he governed.

  29. There are different opinions on this point. That’s the reality.

    As I learned in the Marines, everyone has an opinion and most of them stink.

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