I find it ironic that the day after President Trump tweeted “In America we worship God, not government” he tweeted his nomination of Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback to serve as ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom.
Here are 10 questions I hope Senators will ask at Brownback’s confirmation hearing:
1. Do you agree that religious freedom gives people the right to worship one, many, or no gods? And if so, will you acknowledge that President Trump’s assertion about worshipping God, not government, is wrong and that Americans are free to worship God, Government (though I never met anyone who does), Satan, Zeus, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster?
2. When President Trump told you about your nomination, you 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.” What about atheists who don’t believe in souls? Do you accept that freedom of religion must include freedom from religion?
3. Do you believe in the separation of religion and government, which means you can practice and support your religion but not enlist government to impose your personal religious beliefs on those who don’t share those beliefs? As governor, you tried to prohibit same-sex couples from marrying, created obstacles to legal abortion, and promoted taxpayer-funded, faith-based initiatives that allow religions to ignore secular laws and discriminate against people with other faiths and none.
4. Do you think we are or should be a Christian nation? As governor of Kansas, you promoted a fundamentalist Christian evangelistic event, and called on Americans to “collectively repent of distancing ourselves from God and ask for His mercy on us.” Would you have a problem with a governor calling on Americans to bow to the will of Allah, or to solve problems themselves because there is no god to help them?
5. Do you think religious liberty should apply equally to all? What do you think of a recent poll that found 88 percent of Republicans said it was important to protect the religious liberty of Christians, while only 60 percent said the same applies to Muslims and atheists? Do you believe that Christians are being discriminated against or persecuted in this country?
6. Do you think government neutrality on religious matters is the best protection for everyone, both religious and atheist?
7. As you know, many countries are theocracies. Will you, on an international stage, promote the values of being a secular nation with a focus on human rights?
8. There are worldwide threats to religious freedom. Will you focus on discrimination against Christians, or will you be equally concerned about discrimination against people of other faiths and none?
9. In 13 countries atheism is punishable by death, including our “allies” Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Will ending such abhorrent human rights discrimination be one of your priorities?
10. Blasphemy is defined as the act of insulting or showing contempt or lack of reverence for a religious deity, or showing irreverence towards religious or holy persons or things. Almost half of the world’s countries have laws and policies that criminalize blasphemy, apostasy, conversion, or so-called defamation of religion. These “crimes” are sometimes punishable by death. Such religious atrocities are even more prevalent in the Middle East, where I expect our International Ambassador for Religious Freedom will spend much time. It’s no coincidence that the biggest obstacles to peace seem to come from religious fundamentalists of all creeds: Muslim, Jew, and Christian. Our best hope for peace in the world is to have peace among religions. Your predecessor, David Saperstein, called for abolishing blasphemy laws around the world. Do you agree, and will you work hard to end such blasphemy laws?
Governor Brownback, ambassadors look out primarily for the interests of their own country rather than the interests of the country to which they are assigned. But ambassadors for international religious freedom must focus on the freedom that the international community needs and deserves. This includes basic human rights regardless of race, color, creed, sex, or sexual orientation. I hope, if confirmed, you will put aside your sectarian beliefs and work for the greater good of the international community.