‘Push it hard,’ US en­voy says of re­li­gious free­dom

The Herald (Rock Hill) - - Business - BY ADELLE M. BANKS Reli­gion News Ser­vice

The U.S. am­bas­sador for re­li­gious free­dom called for re­newed ac­tivism on pro­tect­ing faiths around the globe on Fri­day 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-at­large 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 firstever Min­is­te­rial to Ad­vance Re­li­gious Free­dom at the State Depart­ment in Wash­ing­ton, which was at­tended by rep­re­sen­ta­tives of 84 coun­tries.

On Fri­day, Brown­back re­called the broad range of peo­ple of faith and no faith at the min­is­te­rial. He com­mented on the va­ri­ety of re­li­gious head­dresses at the gather­ing.

“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.”

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.”

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

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.

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.

J. SCOTT AP­PLE­WHITE AP

Sa­muel Brown­back, shown in 2017, spoke Fri­day at an event in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., spon­sored by the Re­li­gious Free­dom In­sti­tute and Bay­lor Univer­sity. “You get this one wrong, a lot of other free­doms con­tract,” he said, re­fer­ring to re­li­gious free­dom.

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