By Religion News Service and BJC Staff Reports

saperstein at shurden rgb smallWASHINGTON — Rabbi David Saperstein is the State Department’s ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom. The Senate confirmed his nomination with a 62-35 vote on Dec. 12, and he assumed his duties Jan. 6. He is the first non-Christian to hold the job.

Saperstein, who led the Reform Jewish movement’s Washington office for 40 years, focusing on social justice and religious freedom issues, was nominated by President Obama in July.

“Religious freedom faces daunting and alarming challenges worldwide,” Saperstein said at his confirmation hearing in September. “If confirmed, I will do everything within my abilities and influence to engage every sector of the State Department and the rest of the U.S. government to integrate religious freedom into our nation’s statecraft and foreign policies.”
Saperstein will head the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom, where he will be tasked with monitoring religious freedom abuses around the world.

Saperstein was the first chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, which was created as a watchdog group in the same act of Congress that created the ambassador-at-large position. In 2009, he was appointed by Obama to the first White House Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

BJC Executive Director Brent Walker applauded Saperstein’s nomination to the post in July, noting that he brings both theological training and legal expertise to the position, as well as “a passion for religious liberty both in the United States and around the world.”

“The United States’ commitment to the cause of international religious liberty will be in good hands under Rabbi Saperstein’s tutelage,” Walker said, noting his own collaborations with Saperstein over the years. “The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and the Baptist Joint Committee have worked in partnership for decades in the fight for religious freedom. Rabbi Saperstein and I served as co-chairs of the Coalition to Preserve Religious Liberty, and, in 2006, Rabbi Saperstein was the inaugural lecturer for the Baptist Joint Committee’s annual Walter B. and Kay W. Shurden Lectures on Religious Liberty and Separation of Church and State.”

Saperstein, 67, is the fourth person to hold the job, which was created by Congress in 1998. He succeeds the Rev. Suzan Johnson Cook — the first African-American and woman to serve in the position — who resigned in October 2013, saying that she needed to earn more to support her family.


From the January 2015 Report From the Capital. Click here to read the next article.