With vote against Brownback, Democrats abandon religious freedom

While religious freedom has become a hot issue in the United States in recent years, it’s been an issue overseas for much longer — and has historically been a bipartisan issue.

Traditionally, Republicans and Democrats have been able to come together in protection of this human right, whether concerning Yezidis and Christians in the Middle East, Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, or Jews in France. Just over a year ago, President Obama signed into law the Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act, which among other things elevated the role of the United States’ ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom.

{mosads}Yet with the confirmation vote on former Kansas Governor Sam Brownback to fill that very role, this consensus appears to have broken. Not one of 49 Senate Democrats voted for the man who was a former colleague to some, and Vice President Pence had to be called in to break the tie.

This was a vote for someone who, as a senator, worked to defend those suffering under the North Korean dictatorship, fought for the Baha’i persecuted in Iran, defended the Roma minority in Romania, and spoke out against an anti-Semitic attack on a synagogue in Russia.

Brownback also raised awareness of the suffering in places like Uganda, and strove to declare as genocide the actions of the Sudanese government against Muslims in Darfur, demanding the Sudanese government end its practices of slavery and attacks on civilians.

His strong stances drew praise across party lines, from those like New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, and his public plea that the United States address the Sudan crisis was even joined by none other than then-Sen. Obama.

Just last year, President Obama’s ambassador-at-large, David Saperstein, said Brownback was “a very strong appointment” and “knows the issue (of religious freedom) very well.” In addition, many of the senators who voted against him had worked with him and knew of his many efforts.

So what happened? The Senate Democrats could be exhibiting a juvenile desire to flatly oppose anything President Trump does — why not oppose another one of his nominees? More likely, however, due to lobbying by LGBT groups who are fine with throwing the persecuted overboard to advance their agenda, these Democrats have caved and abandoned their long-held position on religious freedom.

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) heavily lobbied senators, writing that Brownback has “conflated ‘religious freedom’ with a license to discriminate.” Yet, as expected, HRC chose to remain blind to Brownback’s actual record on the issue, and its letter to senators failed to mention anything regarding Brownback’s long history of strong stances for international religious freedom.

One may expect the HRC to not give a hoot about the human right of religious freedom, but the senators who used to stand up for it should know better. Sen. Menendez (D-N.J.) even claimed he was concerned Brownback would only protect Christians if confirmed for the job. They served in the Senate together, and Menendez must know Brownback’s work. Why would he lie or mislead the public now? There is no excuse.

For every Senate Democrat to vote against a former colleague with a distinguished record of defending religious freedom for those all of faiths around the world should be an outrage, and voters can make it one. The Senate Democrats up for reelection who voted against Brownback should have to answer for their abandonment of North Koreans to prison camps, the Rohingya to mass murder, and Middle East Christians to genocide. Only then will we regain the consensus which we once held, and should continue to hold, proclaiming that the United States is a beacon for protecting the human right of religious freedom worldwide.

There are 26 senators up for re-election who are Democrats (or caucus with Democrats). They all should be forced to answer why they have abandoned the persecuted through their votes on Brownback.

Ten of those up for re-election are from states that President Trump won: Bill Nelson (Florida), Tammy Baldwin (Wisconsin), Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Bob Casey (Pennsylvania), Debbie Stabenow (Michigan), Joe Donnelly (Indiana), Claire McCaskill (Missouri), Jon Tester (Montana), Heidi Heitkamp (North Dakota), and Joe Manchin (West Virginia). The last five are in states that Trump won by at least 18 points. There are other close races like that of Tina Smith (Minnesota).

Voters in those states should remember that their Senators have turned their back on the priority of religious freedom and abandoned religious dissidents in China, religious minorities in Iran, and slaughtered Rohingya in Myanmar. These same voters should ask themselves if that’s what they want in their senators.

Just the other day, it was reported that Muslim Rohingya who were victims of mass slaughter in one rural area had their faces burned away by acid in an attempt by the perpetrators to hide their actions. Sam Brownback is ready to address horrific religious persecution like this, yet Senate Democrats tried to prevent him from doing so. They have no excuse.

Travis Weber, Esq. is director of the Center for Religious Liberty at Family Research Council Action.

Tags Asia Bill Nelson Bob Casey Christianity Claire McCaskill Debbie Stabenow Donald Trump Freedom of religion Heidi Heitkamp International Religious Freedom Act Joe Donnelly Joe Manchin Jon Tester Sam Brownback Sherrod Brown Tammy Baldwin Tina Smith United States Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom

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