Rabbi David Saperstein was tapped to fill a key role and diplomatic position as the new Religious Freedom Ambassador for the U.S. State Department. Saperstein will have a lot to cover since the post was vacated by Suzanne Johnson Cook in Oct 2013.
Last year was the largest displacement of religious communities on record, according to a U.S. State Department report. Hundreds Muslims, Hindus and Christians were displaced due to religious beliefs and in conflict zones “displacement has become a pernicious norm.”
Countries like North Korea topped the list for harsh punishments for religious freedom. Iran is still holding U.S. Iranian citizen Pastor Saeed Abedini, who was sentenced for eight years for Christian beliefs. Saudi Arabia, China, Cuba, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Sudan also have severe consequences for non-Muslims and other unapproved religions. Sudanese Christian Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag was sentenced to death by hanging for renouncing Islam last May, but was finally acquitted after international pressure.
Secretary Kerry said that those countries that protect these rights would have a partnership with the U.S. and to use the report as a tool.
“We invite governments, community groups, faith-based and secular organizations, students, activists, human rights defenders, change makers and every-day citizens to use this report to defend and advance international religious freedom, a universal right which we are all entitled.”
There is reason for alarm in some parts of Europe as anti-Semitism is growing and up to 48 percent of Jews considered of moving due to discrimination. With the conflict between Israel and Hamas, discrimination is rising. Published reports cited 130 anti-Semitic attacks recorded in the United Kingdom in July. Many of the attacks were from pro Palestinian supporters.
“History shows that nations that uphold the rights of their people --including the freedom of religion -- are ultimately more just and more peaceful and more successful. Nations that do not uphold these rights sow the bitter seeds of instability and violence and extremism,” President Obama said.
Rabbi David Saperstein is the first non-Christian to be nominated to the post since its creation in 1998.