EDITORIAL: Brownback visits the Springs to promote international religious freedom
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U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback, second from right, wants Colorado Springs religious communities to help him promote religious freedom around the globe. He spoke Monday at Glen Eyrie Castle. (photo Wayne Laugesen, The Gazette)

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Checks and balances uphold the First Amendment's protection to exercise religion in the United States. Few other countries enjoy the same protection.

The U.S. government's enforcement of religious liberty preserves a country in which Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Satanists, atheists and more live in relative peace. Most Americans practice faith, or avoid it, without fear of authoritarian reprisal or violent persecution by individuals and/or groups with conflicting views.

If this were the standard throughout the world, we would have less war. We would see fewer beheadings and other forms of murder and torture by governments and barbarians favoring establishment of religion over the free exercise thereof.

"Want less terror? One of the best things to do is have more religious freedom. If you want to grow your economy, provide more religious freedom," said Sam Brownback, the U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom.

Brownback visited Colorado Springs on Monday, accompanied by a host of religious leaders and U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn. Brownback praised the Pikes Peak region's status as a hub for religious organizations that provide international aid.

"Religious freedom releases spiritual capital," Brownback said, during a news conference and town hall at Glen Eyrie Castle. "It brings people to invest in people. It opens up minds, and gets people building schools, colleges, hospitals, and clinics all over the place. It cannot be a restrictive environment in which people fear for their lives because of their beliefs. Religious groups can't send people in to help if they fear for their lives."

A look at foundational institutions in the United States makes obvious the role of religion in building modern economies. A Pew Research study finds 20 percent of American hospitals operate under religious affiliation, and the percentage is likely to grow.

Catholic organizations provide one-in-six acute care hospital beds in the United States. Catholic health care grew by 22 percent since 2001, and the trajectory continues.

The Jewish religion operates top hospitals such as New York's Beth Israel and Mount Sinai, and Denver's National Jewish.

American Muslims run the Al-Saifa Free Health Clinic near San Bernardino, Calif., founded in 2001. The religion plans similar clinics throughout the country, to increase competition and improve access to health care for all.

Religious organizations founded most top universities and colleges in the U.S. and Western Europe. Puritans established Harvard and Yale. Presbyterians gave us Princeton. Buddhists created Colorado's Naropa University. Catholics operate Georgetown, Villanova, Boston College, and hundreds of other new and old colleges and universities throughout the country.

Brownback's audience contained more than 70 people associated with Springs-based organizations who help underdeveloped countries with electricity, health care, nutrition, education and more.

Engineer Randy Welsch runs Jibu, to equip and capitalize entrepreneurs in Africa working to establish safe access to water.

Gary VanDyke's Food for Orphans provides meals in 16 countries throughout Central America, South America, Africa and Asia.

Heart4Iran connects struggling Middle Eastern Muslims with financial aid and other assistance.

Dozens of Springs-based leaders of faith-based organizations offered to help Brownback spread the wealth generated by a market of competing religious institutions.

Brownback and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will host the first religious freedom event at the State Department, July 24-26, called The Ministerial. It will gather secretaries of state from around the world for liberty discussions similar to Monday's.

Brownback invites religious leaders, missionaries, immigrants, and refugees throughout the country to identify foreign religious persecution that might not be on the State Department's radar.

The Rev. Christine Coleman, a survivor of religious genocide in Rwanda, answered his call Monday. As pastor of Blazing Holy Fire Church in Denver and Colorado Springs, she told Brownback of religious cleansing in Rwanda. She provided a photo of recent murders, motivated by anti-religious hostility, and said the State Department doesn't know the extent of it.

"The information coming out of the government of Rwanda, to our government, is not accurate," Coleman said.

Brownback promises to investigate.

The State Department's new International Religious Freedom Report finds more than 70 percent of the world's population lives under religious suppression or persecution. Brownback highlighted Monday the atheist Chinese dictatorship's abuse of Uyghur Muslims in the country's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

"The Chinese government won't let these Muslims practice their faith," Brownback said. "It won't let them take Muslim names. The government has more than 10,000 Uyghurs in re-education camps. Go to Burma right next door, and we have Rohingya (Muslims and Hindus) persecuted by Buddhists. And now the Burmese have turned on Christians in the north. The Kachin are being driven out similar to the Rohingya. Thousands are being killed. Unfortunately, there is no shortage of religious persecution around the world, and that's why I'm here. This is a community that can help."

Brownback wants faith groups to educate themselves about religious persecution, choosing communities to assist. He talks of a Chaldean religious community in Detroit helping Yazidis and Christians attacked in Iraq's Nineveh plains.

He promises the government can save lives with simple diplomatic measures that fall short of military intervention, or government-funded humanitarian aid. Example: Trump met in April with Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari. Just before the meeting, a militia killed 17 at a Nigerian church.

"President Trump raised that during the meeting and wanted to know what would be done about the murders," Brownback said. "The Nigerian president quickly moved troops into the area, and people stopped getting killed. We can do things that get very tangible results."

Authoritarian doctrines, imposed to establish or eliminate religious beliefs, impose poverty, torture, murder, and other manifestations of tyranny and lawlessness. Conversely, religions that compete safely in free markets of ideas generate health care, education, compassion and economic development. Americans should discourage the former and advocate the latter. Advancing religious liberty promotes world peace.

The Gazette editorial board

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