Newly sworn in Ambassador-at-Large David Saperstein delivers remarks during a ceremony in his honor at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on February 20, 2015. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

Newly sworn in Ambassador-at-Large David Saperstein delivers remarks during a ceremony in his honor at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on February 20, 2015. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

 

On February 20, 2015, Rabbi David Saperstein was sworn in as the United States Ambassador-at-Large for Religious Freedom. Saperstein is the fourth person to hold the post since it was created as part of the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998.

In his introduction, Secretary of State John Kerry said that Saperstein will be the Obama administration's chief advisor on religious liberty. "Since the days of Thomas Jefferson, religious freedom has been at the absolute center of American values and an essential component of our foreign policy."

Kerry continued, "It's certainly the case that when we look at what violent extremists are up to around the globe " the killings, the rapes, the slavery, the bigotry, the destruction of religious sites " we all feel an unbelievable, deep sense of horror, a sense of being dragged back somehow centuries, diverted from the path that we all aspire to for the 21st century. But the horror that we witness should not make us stupid. The terrorists may scream from the roof tops that their crimes are God's will; but you can't frame God for what thugs do. This is a kind of criminal anarchy that we are witnessing. Any idiot can murder a human being, but there isn't a sword sharp enough to destroy truth."

After being sworn in, Saperstein spoke.  "It will not be enough for us to mourn victims of religious persecution or even to condemn the traducers of faith who murder in its name. That just-concluded summit dramatizes America's role in actualizing, facilitating, coordinating, mobilizing, shaping effective responses, even while learning from the best practices across the globe. And the Inter-Religious Freedom office, the IRF office, must play a key role in this effort.

"And towards that end," Saperstein continued, "I stand here to affirm five priorities: To use this position fervently; to advocate for freedom of thought, conscience, and belief; for the rights of individuals to practice, choose and change their faith safely; not only living their faith through worship, but through teaching, preaching, practice, and observance; as well as the right to hold no religious beliefs; and consequently, to seek strongly anti-blasphemy and apostasy laws."

"Second, to engage every segment of the State Department and other departments of the United States Government to integrate religious freedom robustly, firmly into our nation's statecraft. Religious discrimination and marginalization, as the Secretary has said, makes every other job we do here harder, from fighting terror to keeping the peace and enhancing communal stability, to building economic opportunity and upholding democratic values. Conversely, religious freedom tolerance efforts must make robust use of our Administration's broad communication strategies that you've helped shape, and of our indispensable efforts to enhance internet freedom and firewall circumvention since the internet more and more is a highway of faith, more and more an antidote to the isolation and control that persecuting regimes must practice to keep religious minorities in fear and themselves in power. We must work together as a team, and my office is committed to being a valuable part of that team.

"Third, to ensure the integrity of the annual International Religious Freedom report to regularize annual reviews of country designations for countries of particular concern which are such key instruments in motivating progress.

"Fourth, to elevate the focus of religious freedom in regional and multilateral organizations within the international community at large. With my gifted Canadian counterpart, Ambassador Andrew Bennett, we are committed to mobilizing a contact group of ministers and ambassadors for religious freedom in countries all across the globe " not just in the Western countries but in the Southern Hemisphere as well " to stand for religious freedom, to coordinate and reinforce our common efforts, just as USCIRF has done so effectively in a parliamentarian level.

"And finally, to draw on the insights of all of you gathered here today in supporting civil society, including religious communities, in shaping policies that contribute to isolating and delegitimizing extremist religious voices. To this end, I will work closely with my longtime friend Shaun Casey, brilliant, talented leader appointed by Secretary Kerry, to enhance the Department's engagement with religious issues and communities."

Saperstein brings a wealth of interfaith work to the position, having served for forty years as the Director of the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism, the boards of the NAACP, National Religious Partnership on the Environment, the World Bank's "World Faith Development Dialogue" and the first chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

The full text and video of the remarks of Secretary Kerry and Ambassador Saperstein is available here: http://www.state.gov/secretary/remarks/2015/02/237715.htm

 

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