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

Tri-City Herald (Sunday) - - Depth - 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 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.”

“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.

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