Kmiec's Gospel Falls Flat at State Department

Article excerpt

The State Department has a "rigidly narrow" view of diplomacy that neglects religion's role in foreign affairs, a prominent ambassador charged as he announced his resignation in mid-April.

Other foreign-policy experts have another name for it: Religion Avoidance Syndrome. And the departure of Douglas Kmiec as ambassador to Malta, they say, is symptomatic of a long-standing God gap in American foreign policy.

Kmiec, a Catholic legal scholar who helped shape an intellectual framework for President Obama's outreach to Catholics during the 2008 campaign, was slammed in a recent State Department report for spending too much time writing about religion.

His focus on faith, "based on a belief that he was given a special mandate to promote President Obama's interfaith initiatives.., detracted from his attention to core mission goals," the State Department's inspector general wrote in a February report made public in early April.

A former lawyer in the Reagan administration and onetime dean of Catholic University's law school, Kmiec announced he would resign on August 15, which he pointedly noted is the Feast of the Assumption.

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The State Department fired back on April 18 at Kmiec's accusations. "I can't imagine an agency that has a broader portfolio," said State Department spokesman Evan Owen. "We have an ambassador for religious freedom; we have an office for international religious freedom; we publish two reports a year on religious freedom; we maintain a list of countries of particular concern for religious freedom," Owen said.

Kmiec, currently on leave from the law faculty at Pepperdine University in California, fiercely defended his work in earlier letters to Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Kmiec told Obama his work was "devoted to promoting what I know you believe in most strongly--namely, personal faith and greater mutual understanding of the faiths of others as the way toward greater mutual respect. If I may be forgiven a dissent from the view adopted by the Inspector General, it is that I doubt very much whether anyone could spend too much time on this subject."

Kmiec also tied his work on religion to Clinton's promotion of "smart power," saying it had a "highly positive effect on our bilateral relations. …