President Barack Obama’s nomination of Rabbi David Nathan Saperstein — director of Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and a Georgetown University professor — to serve as ambassador at large for international religious freedom at the U.S. State Department has brought with it some harsh critique.
While Baptist leaders, among others, are praising Saperstein’s selection, some critics are skeptical, citing his opposition to the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling and “liberal” viewpoints, as evidence that he might not be the best fit for the job.
In fact, Ashley McGuire, senior fellow with the Catholic Association, a faith-based organization that advances religious liberty, flatly decried the choice, saying it shows President Barack Obama’s “callous disregard for religious liberty.”
“President Obama is yet again demonstrating his callous disregard for religious liberty by nominating Rabbi Saperstein for Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom,” she said in a statement shared with TheBlaze. “Saperstein favors fining family business owners for their religious beliefs and forcing Americans into complicity with abortion against their deeply-held religious beliefs, something the Supreme Court has already ruled against.”
McGuire, who was referencing the rabbi’s recent comments that the Hobby Lobby ruling was “deeply, deeply troubling” for allowing employers to discriminate based on religion, questioned how Saperstein could be trusted to, in light of this view, protect people being persecuted across the globe.
The Catholic Association’s senior policy adviser Maureen Fergusen agreed with her colleague, charging that the rabbi “expressly favors restricting religious liberty domestically.”
“This baffling appointment is akin to putting the fox in charge of the hen house — how will he have credibility defending freedom of religion abroad when he favors limiting religious freedom at home?,” Ferguson asked.
LifeNews’ Steven Ertelt also published a piece Monday recapping some of the facts and tidbits surrounding Saperstein that might lead some conservatives to pause over his nomination, describing the rabbi as “a longtime pro-abortion advocate.”
An entry describing the abortion debate on the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism website frames the issue as follows: “Attacks on abortion rights frequently take the form of limitations to reproductive health care services. The Hyde Amendment (1976) set a dangerous precedent, prohibiting federal dollars from going to abortion services.”
In covering Saperstein’s selection Monday, Religion News Service also reported that his “generally liberal views” might be problematic in the eyes of some conservatives.
But despite these frustrations, others have showered praise upon the selection, with Dr. Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, putting out a favorable statement Monday, according to the Associated Baptist Press.
“Rabbi Saperstein is a respected thinker and leader who brings gravity to this important task,” Moore said. “He has my prayers and my pledge of full cooperation. The downgrade of religious freedom and the persecution of religious minorities around the world must end.”
Suzii Paynter, executive coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, also praised Saperstein, noting that she’s excited for him to tackle the role, if and when he’s confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
“Rabbi Saperstein has been a colleague and leader for many causes and cases that have shaped the face of religious expression, religious liberty and constitutional direction,” she said, according to the Baptist Press. “I look forward to his leadership in this new position.”
If confirmed as ambassador at large, Saperstein would replace the Rev. Suzan Johnson Cook, who resigned nine months ago, in heading the State Department’s Office of International religious Freedom, a body that seeks to promote religious freedom across the globe.
The announcement about Saperstein came as the State Department released its “2013 International Religious Freedom Report” Monday, bringing with it some dire news about the state of free speech and religious expression around the globe.