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State Department to keep anti-Semitism envoy but scrap many others

Dozens of special envoy positions, including several to the Muslim world, will be cut.

From left, national security adviser H.R. McMaster, White House chief of staff John Kelly, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Vice President Mike Pence sit in the front row during a joint news conference with President Trump and Finnish President Sauli Niinisto on Aug. 28, 2017, in the East Room of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

(RNS) — The State Department will retain its special envoy on anti-Semitism, a position some Jewish groups feared the Trump administration would eliminate.

The envoy handling HIV/AIDS will also be retained, but many others will not survive cuts at the department, which plans to scrap 30 of the 66 current “special envoy” positions, including one that handles climate change issues.

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Several offices that handle religious freedom issues will be consolidated, a department spokeswoman informed RNS in an email Tuesday (Aug. 29).

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback waves to guests before delivering his State of the State address to a joint session of the Kansas Legislature in Topeka on Jan. 10, 2017. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

The at-large ambassador for international religious freedom, a position for which Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback has been nominated, will now assume the responsibilities and staff of several other offices.

Those other offices include: the special representative for religion and global affairs, the special representative to Muslim communities, the envoy to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and the special adviser for religious minorities in the Near East and South/Central Asia.

READ: 5 faith facts about Sam Brownback: Political champion of religious freedom

The reorganization is designed to “eliminate redundancies that dilute the ability of a bureau to deliver on its primary functions,” the spokeswoman wrote.  

The Anti-Defamation League applauded the State Department for keeping the anti-Semitism envoy.

“At a time when there is a growing prominence to anti-Jewish movements and actions, the special envoy to combat anti-Semitism continues to be essential and it is important that the State Department has recognized this vital work,” said Jonathan A. Greenblatt, the group’s CEO.

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He added: “We urge the State Department to refrain from eliminating other special envoy roles which are vital to promoting American values of democracy, tolerance and religious freedom across the globe.”

Faith McDonnell, religious liberty director for the Institute on Religion & Democracy, a conservative-leaning evangelical organization in Washington, said she appreciated the reorganization at State: “I think that is a good move, because religious freedom is one of the parts of State Department policy that hasn’t been given the emphasis it deserves.”

But she said she is worried about the elimination of special envoy positions for Sudan and South Sudan, where religious freedom is under serious threat.

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News of the State Department reorganization comes two weeks after it published its 2016 report on international religious freedom.

“Almost 80 percent of the global population live with restrictions on or hostilities to limit their freedom of religion,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said when it was released.

“Where religious freedom is not protected, we know that instability, human rights abuses, and violent extremism have a greater opportunity to take root. We cannot ignore these conditions,” he said.

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