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Obama issues religious freedom proclamation, but will he fill post to protect those freedoms?

Published: Thursday, Jan. 16 2014 4:30 p.m. MST

President Obama declared Thursday as National Religious Freedom Day.

File Photo, Charles Dharapak, Associated Press

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As expected, President Barack Obama issued a proclamation recognizing Thursday as National Religious Freedom Day.

"America proudly stands with people of every nation who seek to think, believe, and practice their faiths as they choose," the president said. "In the years to come, my administration will remain committed to promoting religious freedom, both at home and across the globe. We urge every country to recognize religious freedom as both a universal right and a key to a stable, prosperous, and peaceful future."

But with the religious freedom ambassador post still vacant since October and religious persecution rampant in many parts of the world, some observers question what the White House is doing to protect that freedom.

"If this cornerstone of civilization is to survive, it must be defended in areas where specific religious perspectives are imposed on others," wrote Joseph Grieboski in The Hill. "Sadly, the current administration has consistently shown that it in no way is willing to take up this cause."

The Pew Research Center released its annual report on religious hostilities and restrictions around the globe.

"Restrictions on religion rose in each of the five major regions of the world – including in the Americas and sub-Saharan Africa, the two regions where overall restrictions previously had been declining," the report stated.

Meanwhile, the White House has remained tight-lipped on when and who the new ambassador-at-large for religious freedom will be named, according to Religion News Service. It took the administration more than two years to fill the post with the Rev. Suzan Johnson Cook, who stepped down in October after just 17 months.

“A continued vacancy will confirm the suspicion that already exists among foreign governments, persecutors, victims and American diplomats that the issue is not a priority,” Thomas Farr, director of the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs, told RNS.

The story listed five possible candidates: a Baptist, a Mormon, a Buddhist, a Maronite Catholic and a Presbyterian. But they all have international diplomatic experience of some kind, unlike Johnson Cook.

Diplomatic experience is one of three criteria the administration and the Senate, which confirms the appointee, should consider when naming a successor, wrote Will Inboden for Foreign Policy magazine. The successor should also focus on policy instead of outreach and raise the stature of the office within the State Department.

He points to sectarian violence in the Middle East, the resurgence of radical Islamists around the world and the corruption and religious repression in China as all having religious freedom implications that could be addressed by a qualified ambassador.

"In short, to borrow a biblical phrase, when it comes to global religious freedom challenges, the harvest is plenty but the workers are few," Inboden wrote. "I hope the Obama White House sends a capable ambassador into the harvest fields soon."

Email: mbrown@deseretnews.com, Twitter: @deseretbrown

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