Senate Holds Confirmation Hearing For Trump's Religious Ambassador Nominee

Oct 4, 2017
Originally published on October 4, 2017 10:25 pm
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Religious freedom worldwide has long been a bipartisan cause. Some Democrats, though, are not comfortable with President Trump's choice to represent that cause, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback. NPR's Tom Gjelten reports.

TOM GJELTEN, BYLINE: Sam Brownback is in many ways an ideal choice to be the lead U.S. diplomat on religious freedom issues. As a U.S. senator, he worked with Democrats to enact the law creating the ambassador position. And in his opening statement before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he laid out a forceful summary of what a religious freedom ambassador should tell people.

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SAM BROWNBACK: This is a fundamental right that you have - to do with your own soul what you choose. This is your right. You need to be able to do it without interference by government or groups. This is a right that we will stand up and defend wherever you are, whoever you are, whatever you believe or no belief at all. We will stand for you.

GJELTEN: The challenge for Brownback is that as a conservative governor, he has taken some religious positions that, to his critics, have compromised his commitment to human rights. He signed a bill that barred courts from considering Islamic law, disregarding objections that it was anti-Muslim. He issued an executive order rescinding some LGBT rights. Brownback is also a fierce opponent of abortion. New Hampshire Democrat Jeanne Shaheen wondered whether Brownback could see a religious freedom argument being used to justify anti-abortion measures.

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JEANNE SHAHEEN: How do you address that for women who have been denied access to health care, women who are victims of rape and incest who are not able to access abortion services? Why is that OK in the name of religious freedom for certain individuals?

GJELTEN: Brownback said that as ambassador, he would stay focused internationally on those challenges to religious freedom that liberals and conservatives alike see as worrisome.

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BROWNBACK: This one is so critical and difficult as it is without trying to venture into the difficult abortion debate or other debates domestically and to focus this on international in the places that we agree upon.

GJELTEN: Brownback's hearing was relatively short, and there's no indication his confirmation is in danger. Tom Gjelten, NPR News, Washington.

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