Senate Urged to Press Brownback to Clarify Remarks on Religious Persecution of LGBT People

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Washington, D.C.—Human Rights First today expressed concern over Governor Sam Brownback's (R-KS) failure to unequivocally state that it is not acceptable to imprison or execute a person based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Brownback’s remarks occurred during yesterday’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on his appointment to be ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom. In his testimony, Brownback avoided answering a direct question as to whether there could be a circumstance in which imprisoning or executing LGBT people would be acceptable when justified by religious motivations. Human Rights First urges the Senate to call on Brownback to directly answer the question and affirm that as ambassador-at-large he would be committed to protecting the rights of all communities, including the LGBT community.

“As representative of the United States on international religious freedom, it would be Governor Brownback’s responsibility to promote tolerance and denounce persecution based on religious belief,” said Human Rights First’s Shawn Gaylord. “Yesterday’s answer showed that he is not up to that task. When asked whether it is acceptable to detain or execute LGBT people based on religious motivations, the United States should always clearly and resolutely answer, ‘No.’”

The question came during a tense exchange between Brownback and Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA). When asked, “Is there 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 answered, “I don't know what that would be, in what circumstance, but I would continue the policies that have been done in the prior administration, and working on these international issues.” Kaine voiced his displeasure with the answer, saying, “I really would expect an unequivocal answer on that.”

Yesterday’s hearing follows a controversy over the U.S. delegation to the United Nations voting against a resolution condemning the death penalty. The resolution noted in its preamble that capital punishment can be used against people engaged in “same-sex relations.” State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert clarified the U.S. government’s official position after the vote, saying, "The United States unequivocally condemns the application of the death penalty for conduct such as homosexuality, blasphemy, adultery, and apostasy. We do not consider such conduct appropriate for criminalization.”    

Human Rights First notes that despite Governor Brownback’s poor answer regarding possible persecution of LGBT communities, his testimony indicated that he intends to protect all religious communities, no matter their beliefs. The organization intends to hold Brownback to this commitment given his track record as governor of Kansas, where he signed into law so-called “anti-sharia” legislation, which is rooted in hateful conspiracy theories that demonize Muslims.

“The governor testifying that he is willing to fight for the rights of all religious communities, including Muslim communities, is a welcome step, especially considering his tenure in Kansas. But one does not excuse the other. The Senate should find out whether Brownback truly believes that religious belief can never make persecution of LGBT communities acceptable,” added Gaylord.

For more information or to speak with Gaylord, contact Christopher Plummer at PlummerC@humanrightsfirst.org or 202-370-3310. 

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