Confirming Rashad Hussain would show that religious freedom is a cause that unites us

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(RNS) — In this hyperpartisan era of American politics, international religious freedom has consistently been one aspect of American public policy that still enjoys strong bipartisan support and cooperation.

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Indeed, the two of us, from widely differing political perspectives, stand united on two issues: the foundational principle of religious freedom as vital to America’s strategic interests and the need for the Senate to prioritize crucial diplomatic posts and expeditiously move to confirmation. 

These two issues are important to bear in mind as the Senate Foreign Relations Committee holds its hearing Wednesday (Oct. 27) on the nomination of Rashad Hussain to be the ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom.

President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Tony Blinken have promised that religious freedom will remain a foreign policy priority for this administration as it has been for Republican and Democratic administrations since the passage of the International Religious Freedom Act in 1998.


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But to realize that commitment effectively, strong leadership is required. Having worked with Hussain, an experienced diplomat who has long fought for religious freedom, we are confident that he will provide exactly that strong leadership.

In the history of this position, no ambassador has brought the breadth of policy knowledge that Hussain brings. His work at the White House, at the National Security Council, as a national security prosecutor at the Justice Department and in varying capacities in the State Department, including special envoy to the 57-state Organization of Islamic Cooperation, brings vast experience and knowledge to this vital role.

He has used that knowledge to help other policymakers see the integral relation of religious freedom to their work on human rights, the rule of law, national security, democracy building and conflict resolution. 

Hussain has enormous credibility across a broad range of faith groups, built on years of leadership in efforts for religious freedom. His nomination has brought enthusiastic praise from groups ranging from the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and the Baptist World Alliance to the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League and the Union for Reform Judaism, as well as widespread commendations from the Muslim community. 


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The appointment of a such an experienced and respected Muslim diplomat would send a powerful message of America’s pluralism. With the Uyghur, Rohingya and Indian Muslim communities in crisis, a skilled diplomat with deep respect in the Muslim community is an enormous advantage.

Meanwhile, Hussain’s long record of commitment to protecting Christian rights (which often face particular challenges in Muslim countries) and his record on speaking up for Jewish rights in the face of instances of antisemitism, whether it emanates from secular or religious sources, or from the right or left wing, is exemplary.

Among the religious leaders and governmental officials with whom we have dealt across the globe in our academic and advocacy work, so many know Hussain and respect him. The Senate should confirm Hussain as swiftly as possible. So much needs to be done and we rely on the Senate to perform its vital role in making that happen.

(Robert P. George is McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University. David Saperstein is a rabbi, attorney and former U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)

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