A former New York City pastor was sworn in as Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom on Monday.
Dr. Suzan Johnson Cook, former senior pastor of Bronx Christian Fellowship Baptist Church, has finally filled the nation’s top religious freedom post that has been empty since the start of the Obama administration. Undersecretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs Maria Otero installed Johnson Cook.
The founder and president of Wisdom Women Worldwide Center is the first woman and first African-American to hold the position of Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom.
In April, Johnson Cook spoke at a religious freedom event where she noted that more people have died in the past two centuries than the other 19 centuries combined.
“As Americans, without any apologies whatsoever, we must repeat the message [of religious freedom] over and over and over again to the world … [and] hold up international documents that establish this right,” she had said while still a nominee.
President Obama had nominated Johnson Cook last June, but the Senate failed to approve the appointment the first time. Obama again nominated her and Johnson Cook was confirmed by the Senate in April.
As ambassador-at-large, Johnson Cook will be the principal adviser on religious freedom to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Obama. She will head the Office of International Religious Freedom in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.
Although Johnson Cook is relatively new to the religious freedom scene, having served in recent years as a motivational speaker, she has experience working with government officials. She was an adviser on President Clinton’s Domestic Policy Council and a chaplain to the New York Police Department.
The office of international religious freedom was established in 1998 by a bill authored by Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.). The bill also established the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a bipartisan commission to monitor religious freedom around the world.
Last week, Wolf proposed an amendment that would assign higher priority to religious freedom and give Johnson Cook direct contact with the Secretary of State and greater access to the president's foreign policy decision-making. The bill urges that the religious freedom ambassador be moved from the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor into Clinton's office.