President Biden announces nominations to religious freedom posts

by | Aug 5, 2021

Pending approval by the U.S. Senate, the next U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom will be Rashad Hussain, currently the director for partnerships and global engagement at the National Security Council.

President Joe Biden announced his intention to name Hussain, who would be the first Muslim to hold the State Department position. Former U.S. Senator and Kansas Governor Sam Brownback was the most recent person to hold the position, taking office in 2018 and leaving office in 2021 at the end of the Trump administration. Previously, the office was held by Rabbi David Saperstein (2014-2017), the Rev. Suzan Johnson Cook (2011-2013), John Hanford (2002-2009), and Robert A. Seiple (1999–2001).

The announcement was met with several statements of support and congratulations, both for coming so quickly within President Biden’s tenure, but also for naming Hussain. Christianity Today (CT) reports:

Elijah Brown, general secretary and CEO of the Baptist World Alliance, told CT that the nomination is a “strategic development” because Hussain “brings a depth of experience across all three branches of the US government and a wide array of faith-based initiatives including Baptist-Muslim conversations.

Jeremy Barker, the Erbil-based Middle East program director at the Religious Freedom Institute, told CT that Hussain is “a great choice” who has “done serious security and diplomatic policy work which will be vital in advancing religious freedom within an administration that had said it wants to prioritize human rights within its foreign policy.


“He is also a person of faith who takes his own religion seriously and understands that religious persecution strikes at something fundamental to an individual or community,” said Barker.

As BJC Executive Director Amanda Tyler said on Twitter, “Promoting religious freedom for all around the world is an important mission that has broad bipartisan support.”

The White House named Deborah Lipstadt to serve as Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, a post recently elevated to ambassador status. Lipstadt is professor of Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies at Emory University.

Lastly, President Biden made two appointments to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF): Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum and Khizr Khan. Kleinbaum previously served on the USCIRF and is spiritual leader of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah in New York City. Khan is founder of the Constitution Literacy and National Unity Project, but is perhaps most famous for his speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2016, when he criticized then-candidate Donald Trump for his call to halt all Muslim immigration into the United States.

The White House press release includes biographical and other information on each appointment and nominee.