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Leaders urge religious liberty appointee

WASHINGTON (BP)–Southern Baptist church-state leader Richard Land has joined seven others in urging Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to work with President Obama to appoint quickly an ambassador-at large for international religious freedom.

Land and the other religious liberty advocates made the request of Clinton in a letter Jan. 20, the first anniversary of Obama’s inauguration. They said the failure to name someone to the position after a year has caused them to be “deeply concerned with the message this sends to the world about our nation’s concern for this most foundational human right.”

Land is president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and a member of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. USCIRF is a bipartisan nine-member panel that reports on religious liberty overseas and makes recommendations to Congress and the executive branch. The ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom is a non-voting member of USCIRF.

The religious liberty advocates called for Clinton’s “immediate attention” to the vacancy because of the “many serious religious tensions throughout the world.”

“It is imperative the United States have an Ambassador-at-Large to advance the right to freedom of religion abroad for every human being, to denounce the violation of that right, and to recommend appropriate responses by the U.S. government when this right is violated,” the letter said.

The writers also urged that the nominee, who must be approved by the Senate, be someone with “a proven history of commitment to the promotion of this foundational human right.”

“We also recommend that this person have legal experience, understanding of the role of religious liberty in the formation of civil society, a willingness to work with [non-governmental organizations] that operate in this space, courage to confront countries of particular concern, care for the most vulnerable that suffer from religious persecution” and the necessary “support and authority” in the State Department, they said.

Suzan Johnson Cook, a New York City pastor, has been mentioned as the leading candidate for the post, according to a Jan. 21 blog post on The Washington Post’s website. Cook is a senior pastor at Bronx Christian Fellowship Church and was a member of former President Clinton’s seven-member advisory panel on race.

Religious liberty advocates said Cook lacks experience on religious freedom and foreign policy issues, The Post reported.

In addition to Land, other signers of the letter were Ann Buwalda, executive director of Jubilee Campaign USA; Barry Bussey, executive director of the North American Religious Association; Carl Moeller, president of Open Doors USA; James Standish of the Department of Public Affairs and Religious Liberty of the Seventh-day Adventist Church; Jeff King, president of International Christian concern; Jim Jacobson, president of Christian Freedom International, and John Graz, secretary general of the International Religious Liberty Association.
Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.