WASHINGTON (RNS) In an open letter sent to President Obama on Tuesday (March 30), 29 human rights groups and faith leaders pressed the president to fill the vacant position of ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom.
“The absence of senior level leadership in your administration on this critical issue is of grave and urgent concern,” said the letter, which was signed by leaders representing Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Sikh, and Mormon groups.
The letter was also signed by a number of human rights groups, the former director of the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom, and a former ambassador for international religious freedom.
The ambassadorship for religious freedom was created by law in 1998, and is tasked with monitoring religious persecution and discrimination worldwide. The post has been empty since Obama took office last year.
In a high-profile speech to Muslims in Cairo last June, Obama called religious freedom “central to the ability of peoples to live together.” A White House spokesman said the president “remains committed to filling this position with the most qualified candidate.”
More than two-thirds of the world’s population lives in countries that place serious restrictions on religious freedom, according to a December report by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.
Noting the report, the letter to Obama said the religious freedom post should be filled by someone with foreign policy experience, expertise in religion, and enough clout to navigate the State Department’s bureaucracy.
“In short, we believe your administration should fill this position not only quickly but strategically,” the leaders said.