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Religious Freedom Ambassador in Limbo: Senate Inaction Causes Confusion in Kansas

12-26-2017

A delayed confirmation vote in the U.S. Senate has caused political confusion in Kansas and left the nation still without an Ambassador-At-Large for International Religious Freedom.

Nominated by President Trump last July, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback thought he'd be confirmed for the position by Christmas. But Democrats blocked the confirmation vote from coming to the Senate floor because of  concerns over Brownback's revocation of an executive order prohibiting discrimination against LGBT government workers in Kansas.

Now, his nomination must be returned to the White House and resubmitted by the President. Trump could renominate Brownback, or select someone else to serve as religious freedom ambassador. 

The ambassador runs the State Department's office which promotes religious freedom through foreign policy. 

If renominated and confirmed, Brownback and his staff would be charged with investigating religious freedom violations around the world. He would then submit an annual report to inform the president about those violations. 
 
The Senate delay is causing concerns in Topeka with Kansans wondering who is in charge of their state government--Governor Brownback or Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer. 

Anticipating the ambassadorship confirmation before year's end, Brownback delivered a farewell  address and handed off gubernatorial budgetary and personnel decisions to Colyer. 

With the religious freedom ambassador nomination in limbo, Kansas Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley (D)-Topeka remarked that, "Regardless of what they say, that the governor's still in charge, he's not."

Congress returns from Christmas break on January 3rd. If Brownback's nomination is not resubmitted by the White House and voted on by the U.S. Senate before January 9th, Brownback will still be governor and required to deliver the annual State of the State speech to the Kansas State Legislature.

Brownback was elected the 46th governor of Kansas in 2010 and re-elected in 2014. Prior to serving as governor, Brownback served as a U.S. senator from 1996-2011.  

Members of Congress and Christians around the world have praised him as a consistent defender of religious freedom

Brownback, along with the late Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., former Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., and religious freedom lawyer Nina Shea, were among those instrumental in pushing the passage of The International Religious Freedom Act through the U.S. Congress. It was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in October 1998. 

The law established the office of Special Adviser on International Religious Freedom within the National Security Council, and a bipartisan U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. That commission submits an annual report on global international religious freedom which identifies countries that are hot spots of religious persecution.  

The law requires the U.S. government to take action against religious freedom violators. The president is given some flexibility on the actions he must take and the punishment choices range from public ostracism to economic sanctions.

The 1998 Act also established the position of Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom within the U.S. State Department.

It isn't know at this time if President Trump will renominate Brownback, or choose someone more acceptable to Senate Democrats for the ambassador-at-large position.

 

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