February 8th, 2011
08:48 PM ET
By Dan Gilgoff, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor
President Barack Obama has renominated his stalled pick for international religious freedom ambassador, likely extending a controversy over the pick and over the White House’s approach toward religious freedom issues.
Obama first nominated Suzan Johnson Cook, a prominent Christian pastor, to the post in June. But a Senate Foreign Relations Committee vote on her confirmation dragged on until December, as one senator reportedly put a temporarily hold on the nomination.
Obama nominated Cook again on Monday.
Some have faulted the Senate for declining to confirm Cook, while others have criticized the White House over the nomination, saying she lacks the experience for the job and that the administration has shown little urgency in filling the post, which has been vacant for two years.
The position of ambassador at large for international religious freedom was created in 1998, when President Bill Clinton signed the International Religious Freedom Act. The law, which also mandated a commission to draw up annual reports on the state of religious freedom around the world, sought to make promoting religious freedom a more central goal for U.S. foreign policy.
“Here we are halfway through this administration, and nobody is in charge of the religious freedom issue,”said Thomas Farr, a former director of the State Department’s international religious freedom office.
“The biggest issue is the utter indifference from the Obama administration to a policy we’ve had in place since 1998 of advocating religious freedom as a way of countering religious extremists and advancing democracy,” said Farr, who led the State Department office under Clinton and President George W. Bush.
The White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Tuesday.
Farr and some other critics of the White House on religious freedom issues also allege that Cook, one of the country’s most prominent black female pastors, has insufficient experience for a top diplomatic post.
“There’s lots of controversy surrounding her nomination on the grounds simply that she has absolutely no experience - zero - in this area,” said Michael Cromartie, a former member of the international religious freedom commission that was established by the International Religious Freedom Act. “I think it looks doubtful now that she will make it through.”
U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint, R-South Carolina, who was reported to have put a temporary hold on the Cook’s nomination last year, did not respond to requests for comment on Tuesday.
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.