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In our opinion: Timing is right for the appointment of an ambassador for international religious freedom

Published: Thursday, July 31 2014 12:00 a.m. MDT

Rabbi David Saperstein.

Mirko Ries

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With religious persecution reaching alarming levels worldwide, leading to the displacement of entire communities as well as torture and death, the need for the United States to take a firm leadership role has never been greater.

It was good to hear this week that President Obama has at last nominated someone for the post of U.S. Ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom, which has been vacant for nine months. The vacancy was beginning to speak as loudly as any nomination might, signaling to the world that religious persecution might not be a top concern.

Obama nominated Rabbi David N. Saperstein, who would be the first non-Christian to hold the post. His denomination matters little. What counts is his dedication to religious liberty and the rights of conscience and his ability to effectively press U.S. interests in this regard.

Saperstein seems well-qualified. He holds liberal positions on some recent domestic issues involving religion, but the issues with which his new post will deal are far more stark and clear-cut, and on these he appears to be solid and capable.

Saperstein’s efforts were instrumental in the passage of the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which strengthens the First Amendment and keeps the federal government from infringing on the exercise of religion. He knows how to gather influence and use it.

Saperstein’s nomination came at the same time the State Department issued its annual report on religious freedom worldwide. The timing couldn’t have been better. Millions of oppressed believers worldwide are hoping for U.S. support.

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