Politics

Rabbi David Saperstein confirmed as U.S. ambassador for religious freedom

Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, preaches at a Washington, D.C., service in 2002.

WASHINGTON (RNS) The Senate has confirmed Rabbi David Saperstein as the State Department’s ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, making him the first non-Christian to hold the job.

Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, preaches at a Washington, D.C., service in 2002.

Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, preaches at a Washington, D.C., service in 2002.

Saperstein, who led the Reform Jewish movement’s Washington office for 40 years, focusing on social justice and religious freedom issues, was nominated by President Obama in July and confirmed by a 62-35 vote on Friday (Dec. 12).

Saperstein takes a liberal bent on domestic issues, and all but one of the votes against him came from a Republican.

“Religious freedom faces daunting and alarming challenges worldwide,” Saperstein said at his confirmation hearing in September. “If confirmed, I will do everything within my abilities and influence to engage every sector of the State Department and the rest of the U.S. government to integrate religious freedom into our nation’s statecraft and foreign policies.”

Saperstein, named the most influential rabbi in America by Newsweek magazine in 2009, will head the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom, where he will be tasked with monitoring religious freedom abuses around the world.

The Washington-based Interfaith Alliance applauded Saperstein’s confirmation:

“When David steps into this position he not only achieves a remarkable capstone to what has been a long and successful career, he brings to our nation’s foreign policy a wealth of knowledge and a fierce dedication to religious freedom and the rights of religious minorities,” said the Rev. C. Welton Gaddy, president of the alliance.

Secretary of State John Kerry released the 2013 annual report on international religious freedom at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on July 28, 2014. Flanking Kerry is David Saperstein, left, President Obama’s nominee to serve as ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, and Tom Malinowski, assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor.

Photo courtesy U.S. Department of State

Secretary of State John Kerry released the 2013 annual report on international religious freedom at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on July 28, 2014. Flanking Kerry is David Saperstein, left, President Obama’s nominee to serve as ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, and Tom Malinowski, assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor.

“David’s work has always been guided by the Jewish commandment to repair the world — he has now been given an incredible platform to do just that,” Gaddy said.

Saperstein was the first chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, which was created as a watchdog group in the same act of Congress that created the ambassador-at-large position. In 2009, he was appointed by Obama to the first White House Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

Saperstein, 67, is the fourth person to hold the job, which was created by Congress in 1998. He succeeds the Rev. Suzan Johnson Cook — the first African-American and woman to serve in the position — who resigned in October 2013, saying that she needed to earn more to support her family.

KRE/AMB END MARKOE

This story is available for republication.

About the author

Lauren Markoe

Lauren Markoe has been a national reporter for RNS since 2011. Previously she covered government and politics as a daily reporter at the Charlotte Observer and The State (Columbia, S.C.)

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