Top U.S. Religious Freedom Post Closer to Being Filled

Correction Appended

President Obama has sent his nomination for the position of Ambassador-At-Large for International Religious Freedom to the Senate to be approved, the White House announced Monday.

Dr. Suzan Johnson Cook, founder and president of the Wisdom Worldwide Center and former senior pastor of Bronx Christian Fellowship Baptist Church in New York City, is set to take over the position upon approval from the Senate.

The position has been empty since the start of the Obama administration despite pressure from religious freedom and human rights groups to appoint someone to the post.

The Ambassador-At-Large for International Religious Freedom position was created by law in 1998 to monitor global religious persecution, recommend and implement policies and advise the U.S. State Department and the administration.

Last March, a bipartisan group of scholars, policy thinkers and religious freedom activists organized by Freedom House urged President Obama to quickly fill the position. In a letter, the diverse group warned Obama that he was sending a dangerous message to foreign governments by not appointing someone to be Ambassador-At-Large for International Religious Freedom.

"The absence of senior level leadership in your administration on this critical issue is of grave and urgent concern," reads the letter.

"Religious freedom is foundation to American democracy, our Constitution, and the long, nonpartisan history of American promotion of human rights," the signers wrote. "Likewise, international human rights laws…stipulate robust commitments to 'freedom of thought, conscience, and religion."

The signers of that letter also encouraged Obama to elevate the ambassador's position so that the official can report directly to the Secretary of State, as other ambassadors-at-large do.

In addition to that letter, another separate bipartisan letter by members of Congress was sent last March to Obama that similarly emphasized the importance of filling the religious freedom position.

A 2009 Pew Forum study revealed that 70 percent of the world's population live in countries where there are severe restrictions on religious freedom.

Correction:  Friday, February 18, 2011:

An article on Tuesday, February 8, 2011, about Dr. Suzan Johnson Cook being nominated for the position of Ambassador-At-Large for International Religious Freedom, incorrectly reported that Cook is still senior pastor of Bronx Christian Fellowship Baptist Church in New York City. Cook stepped down from the position in December 2009.

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