After Nine-Month Delay, Obama Nominates New Religious Freedom Ambassador
Rabbi David Saperstein tapped to fill key diplomatic position focused on promotion of religious freedom globally
International Christian Concern
International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that President Obama has nominated Rabbi David Saperstein to fill the position of Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom at the U.S. Department of State. The position has been vacant for more than nine months after the previous ambassador, Suzanne Johnson Cook, resigned last October.
In a statement issued by the White House this morning, President Obama said, "I am grateful that Rabbi Saperstein has chosen to dedicate his talent to serving the American people at this important time for our country. I look forward to working with him in the months and years ahead."
The White House has been strongly criticized by various human rights groups and members of Congress for allowing the position to remain vacant for such an extended period, especially as conditions for religious minorities across the globe continue to deteriorate.
In remarks made at the National Prayer Breakfast in February, President Obama reiterated U.S. support for international religious freedom as an important foreign policy priority and said that he "looked forward" to nominating the next international religious freedom ambassador. Nearly five months later, many groups saw the continued lack of a nomination as a clear signal that promoting religious freedom abroad was not a serious priority of the administration.
The White House nomination will coincide with the release of the State Department's annual International Religious Freedom report documenting abuses towards religious groups and restrictions on religious liberty in dozens of nations around the world. According to a 2012 survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public life, 74 percent of the world's population lives in countries with "high or very high" social hostility towards religion.
Rabbi Saperstein will be the first non-Christian nominated for the position, which was created by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 and has been filled by three previous ambassadors.
ICC's Advocacy Director, Isaac Six, said, "While we are extraordinarily relieved to hear that the White House has finally nominated an individual to fill the long-vacant ambassador position, the amount of pressure on the administration that had to be exerted before any action on this position took place is extremely disconcerting. The promotion of religious freedom abroad is not a partisan issue, nor is it a trivial issue. Strong evidence indicates that religious freedom is a key element in national stability, security, and economic development. Millions around the world live without this fundamental human right, and the United States has a responsibility to promote this freedom at all times, but especially when it is violently threatened. Our hope is that this nomination will become a turning point for the United States and for the millions of persecuted individuals overseas as the administration and the State Department take this opportunity to put international religious freedom back at the top of the foreign policy agenda."
For interviews, contact Isaac Six, Advocacy Director: Advocacy@persecution.org
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