Metro Weekly

HRC opposes Brownback for State Department religious freedom post

Kansas governor hedged when asked if religious freedom could justify imprisoning or executing LGBTQ people

Sam Brownback – Credit: Office of Governor.

On Thursday, the Human Rights Campaign sent a letter to senators on the Foreign Relations Committee urging its members to oppose Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback’s nomination to be Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, a post within the State Department.

In the letter, David Stacy, the Human Rights Campaign’s government affairs director, cites Brownback’s history of opposing LGBTQ rights as both a U.S. senator and governor, which stands in contrast to longstanding policies at the State Department, as a chief concern.

While governor, Brownback changed a policy to make it nearly impossible for transgender Kansans to change their birth certificates to reflect their gender identity. He eliminated nondiscrimination protections for state employees, which had been in place under Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D), that prohibited discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

He also signed into law a bill that forces public universities in Kansas to fund student organizations that discriminate against or deny membership to LGBTQ students under the guise of protecting organizers’ “religious beliefs.”

Most concerning, considering the position he’s seeking, is that Brownback has consistently conflated “religious freedom” with a license to discriminate, even signing an executive order that allowed religious organizations to refuse services to same-sex couples. 

While in Congress, Brownback supported an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to ban same-sex couples from marrying by defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman. He voted against hate crimes protections for LGBTQ people, arguing that such protections would infringe on people’s First Amendment right of free speech by preventing them from expressing opposition to homosexuality or same-sex marriage.

Perhaps the most troubling aspect of Brownback’s nomination was his response during his confirmation hearing to questions about whether “religious freedom” can be used as a justification for criminalizing homosexuality, and imprisoning or executing LGBTQ people. While Brownback responded that he supported specific actions that the State Department had taken on LGBTQ human rights, he failed to condemn the practice of executing LGBTQ people. Asked once again if there were “any circumstance under which religious freedom can justify criminalizing, imprisoning, or executing somebody based on their LGBT status could be deemed acceptable because somebody asserts they are religiously motivated in doing so,” Brownback refused to provide a simple yes or no answer.

“Given Governor Brownback’s anti-LGBTQ record, it is deeply worrying that he could use this position to promote the harmful idea that individuals holding certain religious views should somehow be permitted be discriminate against LGBTQ people or other minorities,” Stacy said in a statement. “This is particularly concerning because LGBTQ people often face persecution in the same countries where where religious minorities face persecution.

“Gov. Brownback must not be allowed to use this position to reverse the State Department’s longstanding policies, reiterated by Secretary of State Tillerson earlier this year, to support ‘the fundamental freedoms of LGBTQ persons to live with dignity and freedom.'”

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com