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Beliefnet News

Embattled Religious Freedom Envoy the New ‘Iron Lady’

WASHINGTON (RNS) The Obama administration’s embattled nominee for religious freedom ambassador is comparing herself to former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher as she tries for a second time to land the post.

“They called Margaret Thatcher the ‘iron lady,”‘ the Rev. Suzan Johnson Cook said Tuesday (April 5) in an address to a dinner of religious liberty advocates. “Change the name. It’s mine now.”

Cook was nominated for the post last June but her nomination stalled and expired in December. President Obama renominated her in February after critics complained the longtime vacancy reflected a low priority for the issue.

Critics, including some on Capitol Hill, have questioned whether the retired New York City pastor lacks enough direct experience to help guide policy on an issue that’s at the heart of numerous international conflicts.


“This will go down in the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest nomination,” she said. “But we thank God to just be in the number.”

Cook was introduced by the legislative affairs director of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, who said attendees hope she will be the next ambassador. As she did at her recent Senate confirmation hearings, Cook recounted her international travels and work after 9/11 as a New York police chaplain.

The Baptist minister known as “Dr. Sujay” retired in 2009 as pastor of a Bronx, N.Y., church she founded in 1996.

In her address to some 200 ambassadors, lawmakers and church leaders, Cook mentioned recent examples of religious turmoil, including the “arrogant” assassins who killed Pakistan’s Christian minister for religious minorities. She called a Florida church’s recent burning of a Quran — which led to deadly riots in Afghanistan — a “despicable act.”


Without singling out any country by name, Cook said governments often give lip service to religious freedom while also taking steps to limit it. “Laws are too often broken by their own governments,” she said, “and their people suffer.”

Cook said U.S. diplomacy on religious freedom should involve not just forging relations with government officials but working with religious leaders abroad who can help influence political leaders.

“The front lines demand strategic action, not emotional nor reactionary tactics, but strategic, prayerful action,” Cook said. “Either we deal with it now or fundamental extremists can fill the power vacuums where regions have lacked democratic institutions.”

– ADELLE M. BANKS, Religion News Service

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment nnmns

    Important programs, vital for peoples’ health and lives, are being cancelled but this thing goes on. What a blunder!

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment JCM

    Believe it or not, nnmns, some people believe that religious liberty is vital to their health and their lives.

    You obviously do not join them in that belief, but consider this: according to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, 70 percent of the world’s population lives in countries where their religious freedom is either highly, or very highly, restricted. Millions are subjected to unjust arrest, torture, and murder because of their religious beliefs, or those of their tormentors. Moreover, the absence of religious liberty has been shown to have a causal effect on the rise of religious violence, extremism, and terrorism.

    In light of these realities, perhaps you’ll reconsider your judgment that the US policy of advancing international religious freedom is a “blunder.”

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment nnmns

    Two points JCM:

    First we have little influence on other countries. Everyone realizes we aren’t going to invade a country to impose religious freedom on them, or even boycott their products. And since George W. Bush we have very little moral authority, too. This office is a sham.

    Second, the most important liberty is freedom of speech. If you have that you can fight for the rest and if you don’t have that you almost certainly don’t have the rest or you will soon lose it. So if we were to have such an ambassador it should be a free speech ambassador.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment JCM

    Perhaps we agree on this: we are incapable of “imposing” religious freedom on anyone, whether we invade them or not. Iraq and Afghanistan are living proof. Both lack religious freedom.

    What we can do, if we have the wit, is convince other countries that it is in their interests to embrace religious liberty, especially countries (e.g., Egypt, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Indonesia, Turkey) that want stable democracy. What is our argument? It is that you cannot have democracy that lasts without religious freedom. Both history and social science make that clear.

    And, of course, religious liberty includes an element of what you are calling free speech — the right to bring one’s religiously informed moral judgments to bear on public policy on the same basis as non-religious speech. No free speech advocate could fail to support the right to religious speech.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Gwyddion9

    I find it amusing how the U.S. can stand there and talk about “religious freedom” when in our country, if you aren’t mainstream Christian, you encounter lots of bigotry and discrimination.
    Something about pot and kettle come to mind…

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment cknuck

    nnmns you are incorrect we do have considerable influence on other countries, unfortunately it has recently proved to be negative influence as we grow more and more unstable and at odds within our own structure of government and community. The attack on Christianity here in America is a lot more destructive than most people know. Christians are on the forefront of the development of this country. We are responsible for developing the finest universities, thriving communities and almost all of the human services. Unfortunately since the secular takeovers of these contributions they are mostly noneffective, and costly. Other countries aren’t impressed by inefficiency and division. We now influence other countries with our addictions, sexual immoralities, idol worship and wasteful spending, and religious confusion.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Henrietta22

    Rev. Sujay stands for all people of religion or any other belief, another article stated this on Beliefnet. She isn’t pleased by the fundamentalist take-over in many countries and would like to help. So we do need this particular nominee. If you were talking of this office as sham I don’t think it is nnmns. I don’t agree with many things you stated ck, you are so negative about anything that isn’t fundamentalist inspired. Our country had a healthy religious background, the background of the far-right is not healthy. Anyway I don’t think that the world looks at us the way you think.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment cknuck

    I don’t know exactly what you mean about fundamentalist H but our country in it’s more productive years expressed a fairly conservative Christian position. This also made the country the most benevolent in the world. you happen to think that your anything goes view of religion is the best way to go and I think that my belief in Christ as the Savior of the world is best. In my view there is room for both in these United States (as the founders believed) in your view there is not. Now who is “negative”?

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