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Religious freedom backers urge Obama to name ambassador

WASHINGTON (BP)–International religious freedom advocates inside and outside Congress have urged President Obama to fill an ambassador’s post that has been vacant since he took office.

A bipartisan group of 18 House of Representatives members and a coalition of 30 religious liberty promoters called on Obama to name an ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom. Letters from both groups not only encouraged the president to name a skilled and experienced person to the position but asked him to elevate the ambassadorship to the status of principal adviser to the chief executive and secretary of state.

The letters followed a similar one sent to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Jan. 20 on the first anniversary of Obama’s inauguration by a group that included Southern Baptist religious freedom specialist Richard Land. The president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and seven others urged Obama to appoint an ambassador-at-large quickly.

Reps. Emanuel Cleaver, D.-Mo., and Trent Franks, R.-Ariz., chairmen of the House’s International Religious Freedom Caucus, led the congressional members in asking Obama to fill the ambassador-at-large post as soon as possible with “a qualified person who has a proven commitment to the promotion of this issue and skills in international diplomacy.” They also called on the president to remove the Office of International Religious Freedom from the State Department’s Department of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor to enable the ambassador and his office to be more effective.

The 30 religious freedom advocates told Obama the absence of an ambassador on the issue “is of grave and urgent concern.” They asked the president to elevate the ambassadorship to a standing just under the secretary of state. In their letter, they called for the implementation of a strategy that would “bring the practical promotion of responsible religious freedom into the foreign policy mainstream.”

Joining Cleaver and Franks on the March 25 letter were Reps. Michele Bachmann, R.-Minn.; Gus Bilirakis, R.-Fla.; Dan Burton, R.-Ind.; Joseph Cao, R.-La.; Donna Christensen, D.-Vt.; Joseph Crowley, D.-N.Y.; Jeff Fortenberry, R.-Neb.; Bob Inglis, R.-S.C.; Zoe Lofgren, D.-Calif.; Thaddeus McCotter, R.-Mich.; Mike McIntyre, D.-N.C.; Joseph Pitts, R.-Pa.; Mike Rogers, R.-Ala.; Chris Smith, R.-N.J.; Zach Wamp, R.-Tenn.; and Frank Wolf, R.-Va.

Among the religious liberty advocates signing the March 30 letter were Larry Cox, international director of Amnesty International USA; Joseph Grieboski, chairman of the board of the Institute on Religion and Public Policy; Carl Moeller, president of Open Doors USA; Robert Seiple, former ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom; Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners; and Angela Wu, international law director of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

In their Jan. 20 letter to Clinton, Land and the others 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 a member of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). 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.
Compiled by Baptist Press Washington bureau chief Tom Strode.

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