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Published on 21 June, 2010

Johnson-Cook named to U.S. religious freedom post

USA (MNN) — For the last several months, Open Doors and other religious freedom organizations have been urging President Obama to nominate an Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, a position which has been vacant since the start of his presidency.

On Tuesday, Obama nominated Dr. Suzan Johnson-Cook to the post. She is founder and president of the Wisdom Worldwide Center and is senior pastor of Bronx Christian Fellowship Baptist Church in New York City.

The position was created in 1998 to monitor global religious persecution, recommend and implement policies, and advise the U.S. State Department and the administration.

Open Doors Advocacy Director Lindsey Vessey says to date, the Obama administration has not followed the intent of the law which is to make religious freedom a key component of U.S. foreign policy. She says, "What we're seeing now is that the office and the position of ambassador are somewhat isolated, and they don't have as much ability to influence and be a part of the foreign policy as we'd like to see. So, that's one thing that Open Doors is concerned about and we'll be pushing for."

Carl Moeller, president/CEO of Open Doors USA, commented: "Hopefully, the nomination of Dr. Johnson-Cook is a positive first step that the Obama administration is serious about advancing freedom of religion for every person and denouncing violations of those rights. To date, the administration has made several positive affirmations of global religious freedom, yet there has been little action demonstrating a commitment to those words.

"It is so important to protect and promote those rights as freedom of religion is endangered in countries around the world. A Pew Research Center report last year found 70 percent of the people around the world live in countries with high levels of restriction on religion.

"Only last week Compass Direct News reported the Muslim parents of a 17-year-old Somali girl who converted to Christianity severely beat her for leaving Islam and regularly shackled her to a tree at their home for more than a month. This is only the tip of the iceberg."

Earlier this year, Open Doors USA launched a petition drive urging Obama to make the appointment of an Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom a priority. The campaign resulted in 8,000 signatures in two weeks and almost 10,000 overall, demonstrating a high level of concern regarding the appointment.

In April, Open Doors USA was among 25 organizations and individuals who signed a letter to Obama urging him to immediately fill the position of U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom.

"The letter demonstrated the broad support from people of many faiths who all recognize the importance of appointing a qualified Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom to promote religious freedom worldwide," said Vessey. "The letter went a step further and called on President Obama to make the necessary structural changes to the position so that the new ambassador has the necessary tools and ability to integrate religious freedom into U.S. foreign policy. We encourage President Obama to implement those changes now that Dr. Johnson Cook has been nominated."

When asked if she was happy with the appointment, Vessey said, "I'm happy that the appointment has been made. I'm happy that there's finally someone who can run this office and who will be the public spokesperson for religious freedom. We're a little concerned about the appointment in that there's not a whole lot of experience of the candidate."

An estimated 100 million Christians worldwide suffer interrogation, arrest and even death for their faith in Christ, with millions more facing discrimination and alienation. Open Doors supports and strengthens believers in the world's most difficult areas through Bible and Christian literature distribution, leadership training and assistance, Christian community development, prayer and presence ministry, and advocacy on behalf of suffering believers. To partner with Open Doors USA, call toll free at 888-5-BIBLE-5 (888-524-2535) or go to our Web site at www.OpenDoorsUSA.org.

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