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In turnaround, Biden administration will appoint Ambassador of Religious Freedom

After President Joe Biden disbanded the Commission of Unalienable Rights, many believed it was a sign that religious freedom was no longer a priority.

Instituted by President Donald Trump, the commission had become a powerful voice around the world in advocating for the free expression of all faiths, not just for Christians. The Trump administration spoke out on persecution in dozens of countries including China, Iran and Myanmar. It was lauded by both religious and secular groups for elevating the promotion of religious freedom and women’s rights around the globe.

While the Commission’s demise was a huge setback, religious freedom advocates now have reason to be hopeful after comments on Wednesday.

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Speaking at the inaugural International Religious Freedom Summit via video on Wednesday afternoon, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that an Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom would soon be appointed. The summit was led by Ambassador Sam Brownback.

Unlike the Commission on Unalienable Rights, the ambassadorship escaped the cutting block.  But the position has still sat empty since the Biden Administration took office in January. It serves a critical role in advancing religious freedom around the world.

“We’re looking forward to appointing an Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom in the coming weeks,” Blinken said. “Religious freedom is a vital component of our diplomacy. Every day, our team in the Office of International Religious Freedom at the State Department in Washington along with American diplomats around the world work…to track threats to religious freedom, coordinate responses, and lift up solutions.”

The Office of International Religious Freedom was formerly led by Ambassador Sam Brownback, who received praise from religious rights groups around the world.

The three-day IRF Summit 2021 “is about relationship-building,” Brownback told Religion News Service. “We really need to have civil society and religious leaders building relationships to stand up for each other’s religious freedom.” 

The announcement of an upcoming appointment to the position was met with approval by leaders in the religious freedom movement. “The appointment of an ambassador to this position indicates that the Biden administration is serious about advancing religious freedom around the world,” said Matias Perttula, ICC’s Director of Advocacy. “The US must lead on this issue, and the appointment of an effective, empowered individual to this position is critical in that effort.”

Brownback used his position to draw greater attention to the issue of religious freedom not only in the halls of US government but around the world as well, traveling extensively to create a coalition of like-minded countries willing to push the issue and helping to organize multiple Ministerials to Advance Religious Freedom.

ICC and other organizations have worked closely with the IRF Office and the Ambassador to advance the cause of religious freedom and to promote policies conducive to that right.

Other speakers at the Summit include the Dalai Lama, former Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, USAID Administrator Samantha Power, Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, Senator James Lankford, and many others in government and civil society.

In May, Brownback said he was “encouraged” by statements from the Biden administration that claim it is “strongly supportive of religious freedom.”

–Anita Widaman | Metro Voice