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Obama reappoints religious freedom ambassador amid controversy
February 8th, 2011
08:48 PM ET

Obama reappoints religious freedom ambassador amid controversy

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.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Barack Obama • Christianity • Foreign policy • Politics • Religious liberty

soundoff (48 Responses)
  1. Chris Hetzelt (-Pretzel.)

    Greetings People ! Um, this is Chris Hetzelt (-Pretzel.) On the Belief

    Blog – CNN, I completely embrace My Belief that Our President, Barack

    Obama wants to enhance and encourage Religious Freedom in the U.S. and

    wipe out Religious Oppression around the World. Back to My Belief, I'm

    understanding; the most likely Reality is, That I've found the Answers to

    some of the Deadliest Diseases in Our Society through My Nine Medical

    Theories. Mr. President, I would like meet with you...Am I already

    Scheduled ? In regular situations I realize that this would seem

    obsurd or crazy....I feel I should ask...Why did I go back to this CNN-

    Religious Freedom Blog ? Because I can't explain this occurance, beyond

    My limited understanding of an Inclusive and Loving God...You are the

    Agent of Change and I don't apologize for having Financial Motivation

    because that's how I've been Utilized....Thank You, Barack Obama !!

    May 4, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
  2. Bruce

    Who knew we had such an ambassador? What is the ambassador doing about the Christians undergoing persecution around the world? Frankly, this ambassadorship could be a good thing if they speak out. If not, its just a vanity.

    February 9, 2011 at 2:07 pm |
    • civiloutside

      The point of the article is that we don't have such an ambassador because a single Senator put a hold on the nomination and refuses to let it be voted on. Sure, concerns about her experience may be valid, but if they are then it should come up in debate and voting.

      February 9, 2011 at 2:23 pm |
  3. newyorknews

    There is an interesting new website that discusses cults at:

    http://www.cultavoidancesociety.org/

    February 9, 2011 at 1:10 pm |
  4. nme421

    This article was posted in Religious Freedom USA. Click here to learn more: http://religiousfreedomusa.org/

    February 9, 2011 at 11:43 am |
  5. civiloutside

    I actually see it as a useful post. I do believe in religious freedom, provided that includes the freedom to hold no religion. Although I am personally an atheist, and obviously from my postings here I do advocate that position, I also am if the opinion that humanity at large will never abandon religion by force. Nor do I think it's desirable for force to be the way even if it could be accomplished. In the end, I think humanity as a whole will adopt those beliefs that have the most value to them, but that can only truly happen if those ideas can be openly discussed and lived out.

    February 9, 2011 at 10:36 am |
    • CatholicMom

      Yes, I agree with you; I believe the commission's goal is for human rights in thought and conscience in religious beliefs in God and other beliefs as in atheism or other gods. No one should lose their life because of differing ideologies.

      February 9, 2011 at 11:10 am |
  6. Chris Hetzelt - Pretzel

    I would like to say, The Beth Jacob Temple in Concord, N.H. is

    GLBT – friendly and I hear the Rabbi is excellent, she has helped the

    the local community very much, there's a couple very nice Unitarian-

    Universalist Churches in town, GLBT – friendly, so it's encouraging to

    note. Thank You, This blog is from, Chris Hetzelt (-Pretzel.)

    February 9, 2011 at 10:26 am |
  7. Charles

    I would trust the Presidents judgement as to "who" is qualified. I think he has a pretty good inclination of what the post entails and who would be "fit" for the job.....at the same time I would be interested in this "pastors" set of beliefs particularly when it comes to GLBTQ civil rights! Ahem!

    February 9, 2011 at 9:07 am |
  8. Reality

    From the Table of Contents of the report referenced above:

    Country Chapters: Countries of Particular Concern

    Burma………………………………………………………………………………….....31
    Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea)…………………………………40
    Eritrea………………………………………………………………………………….....47
    Iran…………………………………………………………………………………….....54
    Iraq…………………………………………………………………………………….....67
    Nigeria……………………………………………………………………………………80
    Pakistan…………………………………………………………………………………..91
    People’s Republic of China..…………………………………………………………...103
    Saudi Arabia……………………………………………………………………………123
    Sudan…………………………………………………………………………………...139
    Turkmenistan…………………………………………………………………………...158
    Uzbekistan……………………………………………………………………………...171
    Vietnam………………………………………………………………………………...

    February 9, 2011 at 7:34 am |
  9. Reality

    The topic commission issues a report each year on the global religious situation. The 382 page report for 2010 is posted at http://www.uscirf.gov/images/annual%20report%202010.pdf. Obviously, the commission is doing its job without the need of another bureaucrat.

    February 9, 2011 at 7:29 am |
    • CatholicMom

      Thanks, Reality, for the web site address.

      It appears that our government sets up these commissions and then drags its feet when it comes to listening to or acting on recommendations; Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, and Robert Byrd were asked to meet and discuss with the commission; Hillary met with them but what was accomplished?

      USCIRF is the only government commission in the world with the sole mission of reviewing and making policy recommendations on the facts and circu-mstances of violations of religious freedom globally….wouldn’t you think EVERYONE would be interested in meeting with them?

      Since 1999 as many as 12000 Nigerians have been killed in a dozen clashes between Muslims and Christians. As recently as 2010, in a Christian village in Nigeria, 500 men, women and children were hacked to death with machetes and dumped in a well. The radical Islamic sect, Boko Haram, ignited a wave of violence resulting in about 900 deaths in the name of having a stricter version of sharia law imposed in northern Nigeria. No one has been convicted for those crimes.

      The commission reports that these are the conditions which create the proliferation of extremist ideology and terrorism to flourish globally.

      The Egyptian government failed to provide Baha’is, Coptic Christians and other religious minorities the very basic benefits and privileges that others enjoy and we see the results of such blasé concern. Yes, in Egypt, those who refuse to compromise their religious principles have been imprisoned for apostasy and blasphemy, or dismissed from jobs, expelled from universities, prevented from receiving inheritance, and denied the right to open bank accounts, buy cars, or obtain marriage certificates, birth certificates, or driver’s licenses…all as a consequence of religious discrimination.

      Can there be any doubt that it is right and just for the preservation of freedom of religion to be among the fundamental principles of our nation’s foreign policy, national security, and economic development agendas? Why is it that year after year the White House and the State Department fail to see the interconnectedness of all of these agendas and how it relates to our personal human rights issues? Is it because we already have some of those repressive tactics already in place in our own nation? How can we point out the splinter in another nation’s eye when we ignore the log in our own?

      Nothing will improve unless we personally stop attacking people because they hold to a different religion or belief than we do ourselves. Also we must really know what it is we want and vote accordingly.

      February 9, 2011 at 11:01 am |
    • Nonimus

      The USIRF appears to be one of only two commissions on international matters, the other being US International Trade Commission.
      Although, I agree that Freedom of Religion is one of the fundamental principles of our country, if we are dealing internationally shouldn't we present an integrated commission on all fundamental principles of freedom, speech, press, religion, assembly, and peti.tioning the government / due process.

      February 9, 2011 at 11:15 am |
    • CatholicMom

      Nonimus,
      Sure, but we have to start somewhere….getting people to stop killing each other over religion and beliefs is a start….then there will be people who can enjoy all those other principles you mentioned!

      February 9, 2011 at 11:31 am |
    • Nonimus

      @CatholicMom,
      I would prefer to see freedom of speech as the first. It seems more like a gateway freedom than religion. Once people can speak freely, then they can talk about the other freedoms they don't have. Just a thought.

      February 9, 2011 at 12:21 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      Nonimus,
      Sorry, I disagree…even if you have freedom of speech you can speak all you want about the killings between the differing ideologies but the killings will not stop just because you can say whatever you want about the situation.

      February 9, 2011 at 5:47 pm |
  10. CatholicMom

    Without an Ambassador for two years did they fail to meet the mandate [by law] of submitting a report every year?
    Why re-nominate someone who is hard to get approval of unless the goal is go another two years without an Ambassador.
    What are the qualifications for the position?

    February 8, 2011 at 11:55 pm |
    • civiloutside

      Possibly his goal is to get an actual *vote* on whether she should get the position?

      February 9, 2011 at 10:20 am |
  11. Reality

    An expression of religious freedom which should vitiate the need for the position:

    Recognizing the flaws, follies and frauds in the foundations of Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism and Paganism by the "bowers", kneelers", "pole dancers" and "pew peasants" will converge these religions into some simple rules of life. No koran, bible, clerics, nuns, monks, imams, evangelicals, ayatollahs, rabbis, professors of religion, priests,or ambassadors of religious freedom needed or desired. Ditto for houses and classes of "worthless worship" aka mosques, churches, basilicas, cathedrals, temples and synagogues.

    February 8, 2011 at 11:47 pm |
    • GoodGrief

      Reality, you have it all backwards but your EGO will never allow you to admit that you've been wasting your gray matter all the days you've been sucking up oxygen. First came Jesus' truth and then came all the non-believers like you throughout the centuries, twisting and contorting His truth and spew out their nonsense saying ...look it came from here, from there, from every where, just so you can stay miserable.

      Carry on (SMILE).

      February 9, 2011 at 12:08 am |
    • tallulah13

      Goodgrief, I'm sorry that you are so afraid of dying that you create a mythology that lets you believe that you will live forever. I'm sorry that your ego won't let you understand that you are simply another life form that is born, will live, then die.

      February 9, 2011 at 12:14 am |
    • Evolved DNA

      Goodgrief...what make you think because we do not believe in your god we are miserable..I am very happy and as i have said on this forum in other posts.. evolution is truly beautiful, and is so downgraded by saying "god" did it. You are a product of eons of supernovae..like it or not..the iron in your blood and in the car you drive was forged in the heart of long dead suns..
      it is true that we had a dead sun in our past.. we just spell differently.

      February 9, 2011 at 12:36 am |
    • Peace2All

      @GoodGrief

      Hi -Good Grief...

      You Said: "Reality, you have it all backwards but your EGO will never allow you to admit that you've been wasting your gray matter all the days you've been sucking up oxygen. First came Jesus' truth and then came all the non-believers like you throughout the centuries, twisting and contorting His truth and spew out their nonsense saying ...look it came from here, from there, from every where, just so you can stay miserable."

      I'm curious, as your posting seems to have a lot of presumptions and assumptions in it, don't you think...? At the very least your comment about non-believers being 'miserable,' is a gross over-generalization.

      Peace...

      February 9, 2011 at 2:29 am |
    • NL

      GoodGrief-
      You remind me of my niece. She's one of those die-hard Twilight fans. I tried to explain to her how the books are just a modern rehashing of Romeo and Juliet, but she couldn't see that either.

      February 9, 2011 at 10:15 am |
    • NL

      GoodGrief-
      Wouldn't ego factor into any one particular Christian generally seeing his own version of the faith as being the correct one while so many others are so clearly misguided in his opinion?

      February 9, 2011 at 10:22 am |
  12. HeavenSent

    I am all for having a committee that ensures wisdom, ethics, morals are taught to the spiritually DEAD generations that refuse to learn wisdom. Act like what they do does not have any consequences in business.

    If they can throw out the "ME" ego from all these Simpson wanna bees. God Bless them.

    Amen.

    February 8, 2011 at 11:40 pm |
    • NL

      "ME" ego? Like how dare all these people not believe in God like ME, or why can't everybody believe in the bible like ME, or how much will allowing gays to marry affect ME? Seems like some Christians are looking at every issue mainly on how it affects them. Talk about ego trips, eh?

      February 9, 2011 at 10:05 am |
  13. Mark from Middle River

    Join the club Ace. There are tons of positions and groups in government that there is not at least one person(s) that feel since it is not relevent to him or her then it must not have any real worth.

    Gotta admit he is making the apperence that he is reaching out to as many groups as he can.

    February 8, 2011 at 9:49 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      I do understand your point, and it is the reason nothing substantial will be done to cut the US deficit – too many special interests and no one willing to cut the really big stuff, such as the military. And my very first reaction to this story was that Obama was playing politics – using every opportunity to include anyone for 2012. But I'm ok with that if it keeps Palin, Beck, Huckabee or Romney out of the white house.

      February 8, 2011 at 10:30 pm |
    • Peace2All

      @HotAirAce

      I believe that you are correct, in the assertion that 'playing politics' is involved. Of course, how could he not...? Especially, since it is assumed he will be going for a second term.

      Peace...

      February 9, 2011 at 1:15 am |
  14. HotAirAce

    I'd be a lot more impressed if he abolished the position. Would save a few dollars in addition to sending a message about the worth of religion.

    February 8, 2011 at 9:36 pm |
    • Let Us Prey

      @ HAA

      There you go, howling at the moon again...

      February 8, 2011 at 9:43 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      @Let Us Prey

      I prefer the phrase "tilting at windmills"... Howling at the moon suggests lunacy, much like believing in imaginary sky daddies.

      February 8, 2011 at 10:23 pm |
    • NL

      HotAirAce-
      As messed us as this sounds wouldn't part of the mandate for protecting 'religious freedom' also cover people's right to live as atheists?

      February 8, 2011 at 11:15 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Your handle makes sense to me. An ACE of Hot Air.

      February 8, 2011 at 11:33 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      NL,
      It appears that the commission would be concerned about every person's rights of belief including belief in God or belief in no God....both fall under the right to hold whatever thoughts you may have and a right to conscience. I don't understand however, how we cannot have this protection while on our jobs in hospitals and clinics.

      February 8, 2011 at 11:41 pm |
    • NL

      CatholicMom-
      "both fall under the right to hold whatever thoughts you may have and a right to conscience."
      Yes, my thoughts exactly.

      "I don't understand however, how we cannot have this protection while on our jobs in hospitals and clinics."
      In what way? Surely, you're not suggesting that we be free to share our personal convictions to those with medical concerns? I know that I have some pretty strong thoughts on issues such as abortion and the afterlife that upsets some people. It would be poor taste to openly share those thoughts with folks in a hospital, or a clinic. Additional stress is the last thing most people going to a hospital for any reason have any need of. For everything there is a season, and being in a hospital is not the proper season to get unsolicited spiritual advice, right?

      February 9, 2011 at 8:23 am |
    • CatholicMom

      NL,
      My point is that each person has his private thoughts and conscience and they do not leave those at home when they go to their jobs….except if they work at a hospital or clinic they are expected to leave their essence at home and do their jobs robotically.

      No one needs to voice their convictions to patients but no one should be force to participate in killing a baby just because the hospital is willing to do so. Also, a hospital should not be penalized if it has a policy of upholding life rather than taking it.

      February 9, 2011 at 10:09 am |
    • civiloutside

      I believe she's referring to the fact that it's illegal for a medical worker to refuse to provide requested treatment/medication based on religious beliefs.

      February 9, 2011 at 10:15 am |
    • Nonimus

      @CatholicMom,
      Would you allow a Scientologist medical worker to refuse psychiatric patients their medication? Or, allow a Christian Scientist worker to refuse anything but prayer for a broken leg?
      Where is the line if not, medical workers should provide all medically accepted procedures to everyone? In other words, shouldn't patients have equal access to medical procedures regardless of the religious leanings of the provider?

      February 9, 2011 at 10:43 am |
    • NL

      CatholicMom-
      Unless you are self-employed, few people can do whatever they want to while at work, right? People are paid to do a job, and they are expected to leave our personal agendas to their personal time. If councilors are required at your place of work then lobby to have a position created.

      February 9, 2011 at 11:13 am |
    • CatholicMom

      Nonimus,

      No one is refusing medical/health care to anyone by rejecting abortion…on the contrary…they are there to provide medical/health care to all persons not just some. Killing someone is not providing health care. How can a doctor who swears to uphold life and help bring life into the world…come to the conclusion that he could kill someone because someone else wants that person killed…and is using a facility that receives monies often times from tax dollars to keep its own head above water? Many doctors are refusing to kill and they should be commended for upholding the oath that we all believe in for ourselves;…too bad some think of only themselves….and try to force our health care providers to kill for them.

      February 9, 2011 at 11:24 am |
    • Nonimus

      @CatholicMom,
      That is "begging the question" by assuming the very point being debated, i.e. personhood/life. If an abortion is in the best medical interest of the mother and/or the fetus, then refusal would be a denial of medical care.

      Although, I think a better argument for you might be the free market. As long as the hospital/clinic/practice isn't recieving public money they should be allowed to provide whatever services they choose, provided it's offered to everyone equally. Who is the government to say that a business must provide certian services? Not sure if that holds up, but it might be more defensible.

      February 9, 2011 at 11:46 am |
    • CatholicMom

      Nonimus,
      Before we go any further…how could abortion ever be in the best interest of the baby?

      February 9, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      @NL

      Re: "live as an atheist," I would *hope* that this role would protect atheist's rights but I would not *trust* that it would. In fact, I question whether one tribe's spiritual charlatan can be neutral in this role! I think an atheist would be less biased and, perhaps grudgingly, would protect all mythologies equally.

      February 9, 2011 at 8:33 pm |
  15. aamom

    what does her race have to do with her experience? oh..wait.....right. this is the republican party we are dealing with.

    February 8, 2011 at 9:04 pm |
    • Steve the real one

      So you're playing the race card? I'd figure you would rather be spouting that "seperartion of church and state" thingy! Did you happen to read tthat little concern for lack of experience? Probably not! Put the race card back in the deck, please!

      February 9, 2011 at 8:41 am |
    • Ken

      Speaking of a racist viewpoint. Did you not read the story? Did you read "There’s lots of controversy surrounding her nomination on the grounds simply that she has absolutely no experience – zero – in this area,” ? You have a readying comprehension problem? Or is it your bigotry that is the problem?

      February 12, 2011 at 1:45 pm |
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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 with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.