The Obama administration has not shown us it cares about the persecution of Christians. This is obvious. At a time of rising persecution of Christians throughout Muslim lands, the president has nominated Dr. Suzan Johnson Cook — a “motivational speaker” with questionable qualifications — to hold the critical position of U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom.
Respected diplomat Thomas Farr, who headed the State Department’s International Religious Freedom desk, has written in The Washington Post: “The Obama administration seems to have decided that other policy initiatives — outreach to Muslim governments, obtaining China’s cooperation, advancing gay rights — would be compromised by vigorous advocacy for religious freedom.”
The situation for Christians around the world is increasingly dire. In Afghanistan, a government we support and largely fund is hounding Christians, pursuing them, and threatening them with death.
Christians in Iraq are suffering more now than at any time since the dawn of the Christian era. Fully half of Iraq’s Christians have fled the country since the 2003 U.S. invasion. They can no longer survive where their ancestors lived for thousands of years.
Christians in Egypt were murdered on Christmas by Muslim militants. Christians in Lebanon are threatened by the rise of Hezbollah — backed by Iran.
In Iran itself, 100 Christians were arrested in 24 cities on Boxing Day, the day after Christmas. The Iranian regime — to which this president extended an “open hand” and to whose people he sent Persian New Year’s greetings — is committed to a totalitarian variant of Islam. No wonder they want nuclear weapons.
By way of comparison, in 2005, President Bush nominated Harriet Miers to the U.S. Supreme Court. Columnist George Will then wrote that if the top one hundred conservative scholars each made a list of one hundred outstanding conservative legal minds, with no duplications, the resulting list of ten thousand names would not have included Harriet Miers. The conservatives rebelled.
I suggest a George Will test for Dr. Suzan Johnson Cook. None of the top experts in the very difficult field of international religious freedom would have named Dr. Cook to this post.
That is not to say this estimable woman does not have excellent qualifications for other posts — in education, for example, or in the office of faith-based initiatives. International religious freedom is a thorny thicket. We have to balance urgent U.S. security needs, including our need for allies in the war on terror, with America’s heavy responsibilities to speak for the voiceless.
In 2006, Family Research Council’s president, Tony Perkins, called for U.S. action to save the life of Abdul Rahman. Rahman, an Afghan, was threatened with death for the “crime” of having converted to Christianity. The government of Hamid Karzai — from the lowest village council all the way up to the parliament and judiciary — was in full-throated cry for this innocent man’s blood.
Secretary Condoleezza Rice quickly interceded with President Karzai himself. Doubtless Secretary Rice explained the political facts of life to Karzai. U.S. support for his notoriously corrupt government would evaporate, she probably said, if he allowed an Afghan national to be murdered simply for embracing Christianity.
Abdul Rahman’s life was spared only because he agreed to go into exile. What would have happened if Tony Perkins and hundreds of Western Christians had not raised a hue and cry?
Our State Department seemed to view Abdul Rahman’s expulsion as acceptable. Years later, State Department officials’ views on religious freedom have not matured.
Failure to respect your neighbor’s right to worship as his conscience dictates dooms a nation to barbarism. Jefferson and Madison were both secretaries of state — and highly successful ones, too. They believed that religious freedom was the foundation for civil liberty, not merely a nice add-on. We call our U.S. military mission in Afghanistan Operation Enduring Freedom. What freedom is there in Afghanistan to endure?
The U.S. needs to demonstrate a renewed commitment to international religious freedom. Laborers in that vineyard call it the “first freedom.”
President Obama should withdraw the nomination of Dr. Cook for the post of Ambassador-at-Large for Religious Freedom. Or, the Senate should follow the lead of Senator Jim DeMint and vote this nomination down. Liberals should show as great a commitment to principle now as conservatives showed at the time of the Miers nomination.
Bill Clinton famously said he regretted doing nothing about the genocide in Rwanda that occurred on his watch. Many Americans are remorseful today that the U.S. did not bomb the railroads leading to Auschwitz in 1944.
Will Americans of the future condemn us because we failed to heed the cry of the persecuted Christians around the world? Dr. Paul Marshall’s powerful book on religious persecution is titled “Their Blood Cries Out.” Tragically, the blood of the martyrs cries out louder today than ever.
Ken Blackwell is a former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Human Rights Commission and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. Bob Morrison is a Sr. Fellow at the Family Research Council.