January 19, 2017
Wilberforce A!ert: One Ambassador Post President Trump Can't Afford to Leave Vacant
The inauguration of Donald Trump later this week will bring with it a massive changing of the guard. The question is who – if anyone – will be in charge of religious freedom?
President-elect Trump has directed all presidentially-appointed ambassadors to vacate their offices by Friday. For those within the international religious freedom (IRF) community, there is great concernthat the position of ambassador-at-large for IRF could be left unfilled for some time unless it is recognized as a priority by the incoming administration. While there may be a moratorium on the tenure of President Obama’s ambassadors, there is no moratorium on religious persecution around the globe.
Such persecution has, unfortunately, continued to increase, and in the latest Pew Forum report, three-quarters of the world’s population is living in countries where religious hostility is high. Now, more than ever before, we need to ensure that human rights and religious freedom are at the forefront of American policy.
One of the main ways the U.S. Administration can show it cares about IRF is through appointing an ambassador. In Washington, the saying goes “personnel is policy.” In 1998, Congress passed the International Religious Freedom Act, which created the position of ambassador-at-large for IRF. At that time, more than one-half of the world’s population lived in countries where religious freedom was not a fundamental human right.
The legislation instructed the ambassador-at-large to be a “principal adviser to the president and secretary of state regarding matters affecting religious freedom abroad and, with advice from the Commission on International Religious Freedom, … make recommendations regarding the policies of the U.S. government towards governments that violate freedom of religion.” With the recent passage of the Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom bill on December 16, 2016, both the IRF office and that of the ambassador-at-large have been improved upon in order to adequately address the growing persecution of religious minorities around the world.
The current Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, Rabbi David Saperstein, has held the position since 2015 and has done an outstanding job during his tenure. Thanks to his relentless efforts, the Office of International Religious Freedom within the State Department has grown, the Country of Particular Concern process was reestablished, and countless partnerships were made around the globe as a result of his willingness to travel to countries where gross human rights violations are taking place, including Nigeria and Iraq. Ambassador Saperstein was also a leading advocate in support of the religious minorities who have faced genocide at the hands of ISIS. Without his efforts, it is unlikely that the State Department would have made the genocide designation on behalf of the Christians, Yezidis and other religious minorities in Iraq.
As President Ronald Reagan once said, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are a covenant with people all over the world. President Trump should make it a priority to appoint an ambassador for IRF within his first 100 days in office.
1. Read 21CWI EVP Elijah Brown’s op-ed, “Concerned About Religious Freedom? Here’s the first Step President Trump Should Take.” http://bit.ly/2jjEmIk
2. Sign the letter to President-Elect Trump, requesting the rapid appointment of an ambassador for IRF, or requesting that Ambassador Saperstein be allowed to stay in office until a new ambassador is appointed. http://bit.ly/2idcIZw
3. Encourage your representative to join the International Religious Freedom Caucus.