U.S. Religious freedom ambassador sworn in

By June 3, 2011

USA (MNN) — After officially being named the Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom in May, Suzan Johnson Cook was officially sworn in yesterday at the U.S. State Department.

Advocacy Director for Open Doors USA Lindsay Vessey says, "I'm cautiously optimistic."

Getting Johnson Cook in place has taken more than two years. Vessey thinks she knows why. "The obvious answer would be that this issue just isn't that important to the Obama Administration. Now we've seen some fairly positive statements on the importance of religious freedom both from President Obama as well as from Secretary Clinton. But in terms of policy, and in terms of actually making this a priority, this just hasn't been."

According to Vessey, it took President Obama over a year to even nominate her to the position. 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.

Vessey says there are some positive signs. "The new ambassador, Dr. Johnson Cook, has already met with a number of NGO's working on religious freedom issues, which is a really positive sign. I believe she has a true openness to hearing from different NGOs' perspectives."

However, that openness may mean nothing without support. "Even if Dr. Johnson Cook has the best intentions and really wants to do this job well, she's going to need the support of the Secretary of State and many other officials within the Obama administration. But I think the key will be to see if she gets that support."

Congressman Frank Wolf has recently introduced legislation (HR-1556) that will help the ambassador. "The bill addresses some of the key issues with the office of International Religious Freedom and changing where the power really lies within that office."

Currently the ambassador reports to an undersecretary instead of the Secretary of State. If approved, that will change.

In the meantime, pray that God will allow Open Doors USA and other similar NGOs to help guide international religious freedom issues, which could help provide more freedom to Christians who are currently suffering as they attempt to share their faith.

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