© 2024 Milwaukee Public Media is a service of UW-Milwaukee's College of Letters & Science
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Senate Holds Confirmation Hearing For Trump's Religious Ambassador Nominee


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.


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.


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.


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.

(SOUNDBITE OF LEWIS PARKER'S "RISE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Gjelten reports on religion, faith, and belief for NPR News, a beat that encompasses such areas as the changing religious landscape in America, the formation of personal identity, the role of religion in politics, and conflict arising from religious differences. His reporting draws on his many years covering national and international news from posts in Washington and around the world.