The good news is that Sam Brownback, someone best known for turning his state into a punchline for how not to govern, won’t be the leader in Kansas for much longer.
With the help of an overwhelming GOP majority in his state legislature, the arch-conservative Brownback, who was elected governor in 2010, was able to eliminate income taxes on small businesses, give huge tax breaks to the rich, cut money from the education budget, lay off thousands of government employees, heighten welfare requirements, and more.
It didn’t result in businesses coming to Kansas and a better life for everyone. Far from it. It got so bad that the State Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that that educational spending was too low and needed to be remedied. Last month, Republicans voted to roll back his tax cuts — Republicans! — and they even had enough votes to override his veto. The fact is things haven’t been working, Kansas has suffered, and Brownback (with his super-conservative policies) has been at the center of everything.
“His policies have bankrupted our state and led to destroying nearly every agency of state government as well as his own political career,” said Kansas Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat and a vocal critic.
The bad news is that Brownback isn’t about to go away. Donald Trump just nominated him for a new job.
If confirmed by the Senate, he’d become the head of the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom… which is a strange job for someone who has never given a damn about religious freedom. He’s long been in the business of pushing his religion on everybody else.
This is a guy who wants to make sure women in his state can’t access abortions. He took away discrimination protections for LGBT workers. As senator, he attempted to restrict free speech by calling for a constitutional ban on flag desecration. He once issued a proclamation asking all people in Kansas to call on “Holy God to bring healing and restoration.”
Brownback, a Roman Catholic, has always used his political power to shut down freedom for people whose ideas he didn’t agree with while advancing his own religious beliefs.
This isn’t new information either. A decade ago, when he ran for President, he famously raised his hand during a Republican primary debate to say he didn’t accept evolution.
The fear from critics was that, if elected, he’d find a way to push Creationism into public schools. That’s how little he cares for evidence.
So back to the issue at hand. If Brownback becomes an “ambassador-at-large” for religious freedom, what the hell would he be doing? Because no one thinks he has any intention of protecting outspoken atheists in Pakistan, or Muslims in the U.S., or Satanists anywhere.
In his time in elected office, Governor Brownback has been no champion of true religious freedom. Instead, he has used his position and authority to promote his own religious beliefs at the expense of LGBT people, women, and atheists. He has promoted the mistaken view that religion is a ‘get out of the law, free’ card and has signed executive orders and legislation that allow discrimination against Kansans in public accommodations, government employment, and schools.
While I hope that Governor Brownback will use this position to protect the rights of all religious minorities abroad, I fear that hope is misplaced. He has repeatedly used religious freedom as a weapon to inflict harm upon others. He seems to believe that a government that isn’t actively promoting his religion is somehow oppressive. He doesn’t understand that government neutrality on religious matters is the best protection for everyone, religious and atheist alike.
There are real threats to religious freedom abroad. Atheists are being murdered in Bangladesh and imprisoned in Saudi Arabia. Based on his record, I question whether Governor Brownback will be the advocate we need to protect the rights of these dissenters abroad.
Do you know what the previous person in this position, David Saperstein, did while in office? He called for blasphemy laws around the world to be abolished. He celebrated the right of people “to hold no religious beliefs at all, and to do so free of persecution & fear.”
There’s absolutely no reason to think Brownback will do anything like that. But there’s every reason to believe he’ll use the position to whine about Christian persecution. And not in countries where Christians are actually being persecuted, but in places where Christians are already firmly in the majority.
He already has support from Christian leaders:
Russell Moore also praised Brownback as “an outstanding choice.”
“This ambassadorship is a key piece in our nation’s responsibility to act on behalf of the persecuted around the world; one that requires a seasoned, respected leader who brings conviction and gravity to the work of this crucial post,” said the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. “Governor Brownback is exactly this kind of leader.”
I can’t understand how Moore, who’s been a critic of Trump, can say with a straight face (or type with no sarcastic emoji) that Brownback would “act on behalf of the persecuted around the world” when his entire career has been dedicated to oppressing those persecuted groups even more.
I know many Kansans are thrilled that they’ll finally be rid of him. But make no mistake: If Brownback is confirmed, he’ll just be another Christian Right implant in this administration, and he’ll do everything he can to give even more power to people who think exactly as he does. And no one else.
(Image via Shutterstock)