Biden’s Religious Freedom Nominees Must Protect All Faiths

President Biden recently announced candidates to key international religious freedom positions at the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. Given the way religious persecution is spreading relentlessly across the globe, the move is welcome. But there’s a problem. The nominees are strong partisans and, in several cases, that — more than actual experience with the relevant issues — seems to dominate the administration’s selection criteria.  

Let’s take a look at who they are.  

Biden plans to nominate Rashad Hussain as ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, a job done with enormous distinction by Sam Brownback under the previous administration. During the Obama administration, Hussein specialized in fighting anti-Semitism and protecting religious minorities in Muslim-majority countries. That could be a useful credential. If confirmed, he would be the first Muslim in the post.  

The president has also nominated Deborah Lipstadt (pictured) as special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism, with the rank of ambassador. Lipstadt is a heavy-hitter: one of the world’s foremost scholars of the Holocaust. She is also a brazen partisan. During the 2020 election, Lipstadt compared President Trump to Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels. She also downplayed Georgia Sen. Raphael Warnock’s history of anti-Semitism. Lipstadt’s intemperate partisanship undermines her credibility for such an important post, and her nomination has already met with opposition

You may remember one of Biden’s appointments to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. He’s Khizr Khan, founder of the Constitution Literacy and National Unity Project – but better known as the Pakistani-born father of the U.S. Army Capt. Humayun Khan, killed in action in Iraq. A Harvard-trained lawyer, he’s described by the White House as “an advocate for religious freedom as a core element of human dignity” – which, of course, religious freedom is. But Khan is better known for brawling with the Trump campaign than for work on religious freedom. He made headlines at the Democratic National Convention in 2016, during which he harshly criticized then-Republican nominee for president Donald Trump. At the 2020 Democratic convention, Khan represented delegates from the Commonwealth of Virginia, officially voting for Joe Biden.    

The other appointment to the Commission on International Religious Freedom is Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum. Kleinbaum previously served on the commission in 2019-2020. She is the leader of a congregation in New York City, an adviser to Mayor Bill de Blasio and a campaigner for LGBTQ rights. Kleinbaum is married to Randi Weingarten, current president of the second largest teacher union in the country, the American Federation of Teachers. A longtime supporter of Democratic candidates, Kleinbaum made a sizeable donation of $1,750 to the Biden campaign last year.    

You’ll have noticed that not one of the prospective nominees is a Christian, despite the fact that Christians make up 80% of victims of religious persecution globally. But the faith of Biden’s nominees should be irrelevant, so long as they are indeed committed to the cause of religious freedom.      

President Trump’s IRF Ambassador, Sam Brownback, was committed to the rights of people of all faith traditions to be free from coercion and oppression. A Catholic convert, Brownback emphasized the religious dimension to the daily assaults on human rights against the Uyghur Muslims in China. He also denounced the “religious cleansing” of the Myanmar Rohingya. Brownback also forged alliances with other nation-states by hosting the first two Ministerials to Advance Religious Freedom. When no country assumed the responsibility this year, Brownback organized an International Religious Freedom Summit last month. Filling Brownback’s shoes will most certainly be a challenge. Failing to meet the challenge will be disastrous.  

Earlier this year, the papal charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) International published some troubling findings about the state of religious liberty across the globe. The 800-page ACN report notes that “hints at religious-freedom violations observed in our 2018 report accelerated and expanded to the current situation.” Additionally, “there has been a significant increase in the severity of religiously-motivated persecution and oppression.”  

President Biden’s nominees for important religion posts must be ready to roll up their sleeves and advance the cause of religious freedom for everyone, everywhere, all the time. And before getting started they should be pressed to answer whether they will vigorously defend religious freedom or are more interested in advancing the far-left agenda of the Biden administration. 

Andrea Picciotti-Bayer is director of the Conscience Project, a project advancing conscience rights through public education and amicus support in religious freedom cases.

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