President Obama has re-nominated a New York pastor and motivational speaker, Suzan Johnson Cook, also known as "Dr. Sujay," to be his ambassador-at-large
for international religious freedom despite widespread concerns
about her qualifications for the post and a Senate "hold" that halted her confirmation last year.
Obama waited until last June to fill a post that had already been low on the diplomatic pecking order despite the critical importance of the issue, as recent events in Egypt and the rest of the Muslim world have shown. And Johnson Cook, a Baptist pastor from the Bronx, was from the start cast as too much of a lightweight for such a job: She has been a chaplain to the New York City Police Department, has written books of spiritual uplift, and was described in a 2002 New York Times story as "Billy Graham and Oprah rolled into one."
That wasn't what Sen. Jim DeMint, the conservative South Carolina Republican, was looking for in the nation's chief promoter of religious freedom overseas, and he reportedly put a hold on her nomination, which then expired over the Christmas recess. But it didn't seem there was a lot of enthusiasm for Cook anywhere else, either. Her November confirmation hearing
was perfunctory -- she was asked one question, and Sen. John Kerry, chair of the Foreign Relations Committee vetting her, wasn't present.
Obama did not include Johnson Cook among his recess appointments
in early January, and some advocates for religious freedom rights used that opening to drum up support for the issue, and perhaps for a different nominee if necessary.
For example, Thomas F. Farr, a former diplomat who heads the Religious Freedom Project
at Georgetown's Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs, sent out an e-mail appeal in late January asking activists to lobby the White House to put a greater emphasis on international religious freedom and the post of ambassador-at-large.
"There is, it seems to me, good reason to be alarmed by the administration's utter indifference to reinvigorating US international religious freedom policy," Farr wrote. An influential and experienced voice in that post was necessary "to address more effectively, for example, the increasing persecution of Christians in the Middle East, or the continued growth of Islamist extremism."
Farr wrote that if no pressure were forthcoming, Johnson Cook would likely be re-nominated and the issue would probably continue to take a back seat. That seems to be what happened, as Farr had predicted:
"Bottom line: there is virtually no pressure -- public or private -- for the White House, the State Department, or the Democrat-controlled Senate to treat US religious freedom policy with any seriousness."
Filed Under: Senate
, Barack Obama
, White House
, Middle East
, National Security
, Obama Administration
, Foreign Policy
, Human Rights