During the Cold War, two diplomats discussed their concepts of “freedom of speech” over lunch.
The American asserted: “I can walk right up the Capitol steps and holler, ‘Truman is an idiot!’ You could never do that in Moscow.”
“You are mistaken, my friend,” said the Russki. “I would not fear to stand in the middle of Red Square itself, and cry out ‘Truman is an idiot!’ ”
This seems to be the sort of “freedom” that Sam Brownback applies to religion. He himself is free to follow the dictates of his Catholic religion, and others are free to follow those same dictates too, under duress if necessary.
To make Brownback an “Ambassador of Religious Freedom” is surely consistent with Trump’s general approach to governance, entrusting critical government functions to cronies who are committed to subverting them.
This is not to say that an Ambassador of Religious Freedom serves any critical government function. Quite the contrary — it represents a sort of cultural imperialism beyond anything the Founders would’ve endorsed.
When one person’s religion demands the suppression of competing beliefs, religious freedom is a matter of perspective. When a religion is backed by political power, religious freedom becomes religious license. A license to kill, in some cases.
As ambassador, Brownback would undermine the very mission with which he’s entrusted.
When Brownback first campaigned to become Kansas’ governor, I discussed his run with my friend, and our representative in the Kansas Legislature, the late Dan Johnson. Dan was a man of faith and a solid Republican, but he had no use for Brownback.
The final straw for Dan was then-Sen. Sam’s junket to Uganda, where he advocated legislating the death penalty for homosexual acts. Whatever you think about homosexuality, Dan figured, a U.S. senator has no business lobbying foreign governments to adopt capital punishment for domestic “crimes,” as defined by Brownback’s own Catholic religion.
Religion is by far the greatest driver of policies that demean and oppress homosexuals (as well as religious dissenters). Ignorantly characterizing homosexuality as a “choice” is part of the campaign.
Brownback has insinuated his religious doctrines into affairs of state here in Kansas, often at the expense of those who harbor different religious views. I doubt that he will suddenly change his MO, if he thinks he can exploit America’s influence and power to make the world safe for Christianity.
One case in point is Brownback’s opposition to so-called Death with Dignity (DWD) policies.
Recently my Unitarian friend wrote the governor specifically seeking support for a DWD bill, noting that with a well-designed DWD law, Catholics would still be free to act on their own beliefs, including rejecting the practice of DWD (not all Catholics oppose DWD, we must note). Adherents of any faith which, like Unitarianism, endorses establishing a DWD end-of-life option, would also be free to act on the teachings of their own religion. That’s true religious freedom.
Brownback cynically ignored or dismissed Unitarianism’s position on assisted dying, citing the dogma of his own religion: that DWD “neither sanctifies life nor recognizes its immeasurable worth in every human condition.” He didn’t waste time on the usual flimsy slippery-slope dodges.
Agonizing, humiliating, incapacitating terminal states are among the “human conditions” that “de-sanctify” life. How arrogant for Brownback to claim that his religious view of life’s “immeasurable worth” should ignore the wishes of the very person who is actually living that life.
The notion that unremitting agony ennobles the individual, that prolonging his dying adds “worth” to his life, is both cruel and arbitrary. The longer you suffer before succumbing to the inevitable, the more your life is worth?!
It is not the government’s job to “sanctify” life. What life is “worth” to the individual who owns it ought to trump a politician’s proclamations prejudiced by his own religious upbringing.
Brownback has displayed disdain for sincere moral and ethical beliefs that differ from his own, and he has sought to impose religion-based prejudices on the people of Kansas.
The Unitarians’ “culture of freedom” should not be arbitrarily suppressed to accommodate Brownback’s putative “culture of life,” which actually debases and devalues life when it denies us the right to determine how and when our own lives should conclude, in safety and compassion.
Rival religions often champion mutually exclusive commandments. The law has long established that religious freedom should allow one to act in accordance with his religion, but to various degrees this principle is superceded when the effect of those actions is harmful to others. A host of destructive behaviors have been “justified” by asserting their divine provenance.
In some states, outright religious prejudice spawned “animal cruelty” statutes forbidding the sacrificial slaughter of chickens during Santeria religious ceremonies (killing birds for the meat market is OK).
On the other hand, in some states a parent can legally allow his child to die of medical neglect if it’s God’s will.
This ambassadorship is transparently intended to safeguard foreign Christians from “persecution,” a narrative vital to would-be theocrats here at home too. Will Brownback defend mullahs’ religious freedom to chop off hands and heads? Will he support religious leaders’ use of “blasphemy laws” to execute apostates and dissidents? Will he uphold the right of African priests to kill “witches?”
Will he champion religious freedom for all religions, including believers and non-believers alike who suffer at religion’s hands? Or will he pick and choose?
Jon Hauxwell, MD, is a retired
family physician who grew up in Stockton and lives outside Hays.