Magazine article The Christian Century

Congress Creates Envoy for Religious Minorities Persecuted in Asia

Magazine article The Christian Century

Congress Creates Envoy for Religious Minorities Persecuted in Asia

Article excerpt

As Islamic State fighters in Iraq and Syria send religious minorities fleeing for their lives, Congress has created a new job at the State Department: Special Envoy to Promote Religious Freedom of Religious Minorities in the Near East and South Central Asia.

Those regions "are the hot burning center" of the global problem of religious persecution," said Katrina Lantos Swett, who heads the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, which Congress created in 1998 to monitor the issue independent of the State Department.

Advocates for global religious freedom have lobbied for the position for years, and some say it is possible that the White House will combine the envoy's duties with those of the larger portfolio of the ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom.

The White House on August 20 declined to comment on that possibility. President Obama's choice for the ambassador-at-large job is Rabbi David Saperstein, who has led the Washington office of Reform Judaism for four decades. His nomination is pending before the Senate.

"A lot of people feel he would do an excellent job if this was rolled into his portfolio," Lantos Swett said. She also noted that it seems as if Congress intended the ambassador-at-large and the special envoy to be two separate positions.

"I have confidence that Saperstein, whatever his title, can make a difference" if he is given the authority and resources those positions warrant, said Thomas Farr, director of the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown University's Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs. …

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