Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio is renewing calls for President Obama to appoint an Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, a State Department position that has been vacant for more than nine months.
Rubio’s letter, sent Wednesday to Obama, follows one the Republican sent in April, which went unanswered.
“Across the globe, religious minorities are being persecuted for exercising their right to practice their faith,” wrote Rubio.
“A clear recent example was the case of Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag, a Sudanese woman who was sentenced to death for refusing to renounce her Christian faith. Although she is no longer in detention, her case remains bogged down in the Sudanese court system.”
Ishag was born to a Muslim father but married a Christian man. For this, relatives reportedly turned her in to Sudanese authorities. She was put in prison and gave birth there in May. After she was finally released, Ishag and her family were again arrested. The U.S. ambassador appealed to the Sudanese, who released her to the U.S. embassy.
“The United States needs a senior government official who promotes religious freedom to intervene in Meriam’s case as well as others like it,” Rubio continued in his letter.
“In order to display the United States’ dedication to religious freedom, we must have an Ambassador-at-Large in place to lead our efforts to protect and promote religious freedom.”
The position was created in 1998 as part of the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998. Its mission, according to the State Department’s website, is to promote “religious freedom as a core objective of U.S. foreign policy.” To do this, the department monitors religious discrimination and persecution worldwide.
Others have criticized Obama for failing to make the ambassadorship a priority as the position had remained open for the first two years of Obama’s presidency. He finally appointed Suzanne Johnson Cook to the position in 2010. But it has remained open yet again since Cook resigned in Oct. 2013.
“A continued vacancy will confirm the suspicion that already exists among foreign governments, persecutors, victims and American diplomats that the issue is not a priority,” Thomas Farr, professor of religion and international affairs at Georgetown University, told the Washington Post back in January.
Writing at the blog for the Council on Foreign Relations in March, Elliot Abrams called Obama’s failure to act “mysterious, and disgraceful.”