On Friday, the Senate confirmed President Obama's nomination of Rabbi David N. Saperstein to the position of ambassador at large for international religious freedom. Following a 62 to 35 vote, the prominent rabbi will lead U.S. efforts to counteract religious persecution around the world.
"I am grateful that Rabbi Saperstein has chosen to dedicate his talent to serving the American people at this important time for our country. I look forward to working with him in the months and years ahead," the president said during the July 28 announcement.
As the head of the Office of International Religious Freedom, Saperstein will work with his team to "monitor religious persecution and discrimination worldwide, recommend and implement policies in respective regions or countries, and develop programs to promote religious freedom."
Saperstein fills a post left vacant for more than a year following the resignation of Rev. Suzan Johnson Cook in Oct. 2013. The first non-Christian to serve as the ambassador at large, he was highly endorsed by 15 different secularist, humanist, non-theist, atheist, and religious freedom advocacy organizations, which called in November for his expedient confirmation in a joint letter to the Senate.
For 40 years, Saperstein has served as the director and counsel of the Washington, D.C.-based Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism, and has fought for social justice and civil rights. In1999, he was elected as the first Chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, according to the RAC website, and in 2009, was appointed by President Obama as a member of the first White House Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
Named Time Magazine's most influential rabbi in the U.S. in 2009, he has worked closely with legislators for many years - experience his supporters hope will prove beneficial in increasing religious freedom in American foreign policy.
Following the confirmation, Rabbi Steve Fox, CEO of the Central Conference on American Rabbis said, "...Rabbi Saperstein can be expected to amplify America's voice forcefully on behalf of men, women, and children across the globe who face discrimination, degradation, and violence because of their religious beliefs and practices."
While just one Republican did not vote in favor of Saperstein's appointment, the rabbi has sided with liberals on domestics issues but has also worked with Christian conservatives to protect religious liberty. He did not support the Supreme Court's June ruling allowing some companies to remove contraception coverage for female employees based on the owner's religious convictions.
His organization does support same-sex marriage, abortion rights and gun control.
Christians are hopeful that Saperstein will address the global increase in persecution that their brothers and sisters in Christ are experiencing at a noticeable increase in recent years. Earlier this month, Pope Francis also expressed his concern for the safety of Christians around the globe, especially those facing death in Middle Eastern countries, and called for an inter-faith alliance to stop persecution at the hands of ISIS.
At his confirmation hearing in September, Saperstein said, "Religious freedom faces daunting and alarming challenges worldwide. 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, 67, is married to Ellen Weiss, an award-winning broadcast journalist, and has two sons. He has bachelor's degree from Cornell University, a master's degree in rabbinical studies from Hebrew Union College, and a law degree from American University.