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Does Obama care about religious freedom?

By-Mark Tapscott | 18 July 2010

 Does President Obama care about religious freedom? It's disconcerting that this question needs to be asked of a U.S. president, but prominent observers are sounding the alarm.

"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," Thomas Farr, director of the State Department's Office of International Religious Freedom under President Clinton, recently wrote in the Washington Post.
As we learned earlier this week, even NASA's "foremost" mission is now Muslim engagement. The problem is that the Obama administration doesn't seem to know the difference between Muslim engagement and Muslim appeasement.
With little fanfare, the administration has quietly changed its religion rhetoric. Administration officials no longer speak of supporting "freedom of religion." Instead, they now speak of "freedom of worship."
It should be noted with bitter irony that the president first used the phrase at the memorial service for victims of the Muslim terrorist attack at Fort Hood, Texas. Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have used the phrase many times since then.
The change is of enormous significance. "[Freedom of worship] excludes the right to raise your children in your faith; the right to have religious literature; the right to meet with co-religionists; the right to raise funds; the right to appoint or elect your religious leaders, and to carry out charitable activities, to evangelize, [and] to have religious education or seminary training," Nina Shea, director of the Center for Religious Freedom, told Christianity Today.
Even Saudi Arabia could be said to have "freedom of worship," as the government allegedly guarantees the right to worship in private. Yet, proselytizing there is illegal, and Muslims who convert to Christianity face the death penalty.
Your government is now sending a signal to the world it is OK with this state of affairs. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, of which Shea is a member, worried in its annual report that the shift in rhetoric could have "concrete policy implications."
As if this concession weren't bad enough, the president just slapped religious freedom advocates in the face again. After leaving the position of ambassador at large for international religious freedom in the State Department vacant for 18 months, Obama finally got around to nominating someone for the position.
Pending approval by the Senate, the job will go to the Rev. Dr. Suzan D. Johnson Cook, author of "Too Blessed to be Stressed," "A New Dating Attitude" and "Moving Up: Dr. Sujay's Ten Steps to Turning Your Life Around and Getting to the Top." Her Web site describes her as a "funspirational" speaker.
To her credit, Cook is also a New York City police chaplain and served on a presidential commission under Clinton. No one doubts she is an able preacher. However, "Dr. Sujay's resume, with no discernible international policy experience, her close ties to the Clinton administration, and several ill-defined business ventures, suggest that Obama cares little about supporting religious freedom around the world," wrote Anthea Butler at Religion Dispatches magazine.
Robert Seiple, the first person to serve in the position and former head of the World Vision international Christian charity, is also concerned by the appointment. "There is very little grace allowed for on-the-job training when it comes to international diplomacy," he told Washington Post.
Maybe Sujay, is too blessed to be stressed about being in over her head. But anyone who considers religious freedom sacred ought to be plenty concerned by Obama.
Mark Hemingway is a editorial page staff writer for The Washington Examiner. He can be reached at mhemingway@washingtonexaminer.com.
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