The White House announced July 30 the nomination of Rashad Hussain, the director of partnerships and global engagement at the National Security Council, as ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom.
If confirmed by the Senate, Hussain would be the first Muslim to serve in that State Department post. He would succeed Sam Brownback, former U.S. senator and Kansas governor, in the international religious freedom ambassador’s role.
Hussain served previously as White House counsel under President Barack Obama. He also was U.S. special envoy to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and U.S. special envoy to the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications.
Previously, he worked with the House Judiciary Committee and as a judicial law clerk on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. He is a graduate of Yale Law School and holds master’s degrees from Harvard University and from its Kennedy School of Government.
Baptists voice support for nominee
Bob Roberts, pastor of Northwood Church in Keller and co-founder of the Multi-Faith Neighbors Network, tweeted his affirmation of Hussain for ambassador-at-large post: “Ecstatic about my friend @rashad_Hussain nomination for International Religious Freedom Ambassador—He will be INCREDIBLE!”
Leaders of the Baptist World Alliance voiced strong support for Hussain’s nomination and called on lawmakers to confirm him for the ambassadorship.
“The nomination of Rashad Hussain, who brings a depth of experience across all three branches of the U.S. government and a wide array of faith-based initiatives, including Baptist-Muslim conversations, is a strategic development. I welcome the nomination of the first Muslim American to this key position, and look forward to serving alongside Special Envoy Hussain, who is a seasoned advocate for religious freedom for all,” said BWA General Secretary Elijah Brown.
“I join with many others in urging Congress to quickly confirm Special Envoy Hussain to this ambassadorship as many—especially in light of the ongoing global pandemic—face unprecedented restrictions as they seek to live out their faith convictions.”
Roy Medley, general secretary emeritus of American Baptist Churches USA, has worked with Hussain as a member of the BWA Commission on Interfaith Relations.
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“Mr. Hussain has long been an international advocate for religious liberty as a basic human right and has won our respect and our support as Baptists. I welcome his nomination to this critical position,” Medley said.
Jennifer Hawks, associate general counsel for the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, noted the ambassador-at-large is “a crucial member of the U.S. diplomatic team charged with promoting and defending religious freedom for all people around the globe.”
Hawks, who serves on the BWA Commission on Religious Freedom, said she hopes to “work with Ambassador Hussain to confront blasphemy laws that criminalize religious belief, mass kidnappings from religious schools, bans on religious clothing, and the myriad of other ways governments around the world persecute religious and nonreligious individuals within their borders.”
Randel Everett, founding president of 21Wilberforce—a human rights organization that concentrates on global freedom of religion, belief and conscience—applauded Hussain’s nomination.
“Through his academic, diplomatic, and legal work, Hussain has demonstrated understanding of and advocacy for religious freedom. This has earned him respect across the spectrum of faiths and no faith,” said Everett, former executive director of the Baptist General Convention of Texas.
“Further, the promptness of this appointment, just six months since the president took office, sends a positive signal that the United States places priority on international religious freedom and religious persecution issues. We hope Congress will move forward with this nomination quickly and look forward to working with Ambassador Hussain.”
Glad to see administration fill the position
International Christian Concern, a human rights organization focused on advocacy for persecuted Christians, also expressed excitement in learning the Biden administration had taken action to fill the position of ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom.
“We hope to see a smooth confirmation process and look forward to working with Rashad Hussain to advance religious freedom globally,” said Matias Perttula, director of advocacy at International Christian Concern.
Kori Porter, chief executive of Christian Solidarity Worldwide-USA, called the nomination “an encouraging indicator of the importance the Biden administration places on the fundamental right to freedom of religion or belief.”
Ismail Royer, director of the religious freedom action team at the Religious Freedom Institute, praised Hussain as “a wise choice” for the ambassador’s post.
“Hussain is eminently qualified for the position, and as a man of faith, he understands that religious freedom is important because religion is important,” Royer said.
Other key religious freedom positions filled
The Biden administration also named Deborah Lipstadt, a professor at Emory University and noted historian of the Holocaust, as U.S. special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism.
David Trimble, vice president for public policy at the Religious Freedom Institute, not only praised Lipstadt’s nomination, but also Congress for passing the act in January that created the position.
“Congress rightly gave this special envoy position the seniority it deserves. Nominating someone of Professor Lipstadt’s stature and expertise is a powerful response to the alarming growth of anti-Semitism around the world and in America,” Trimble said. “This is a major issue in the fight for religious freedom.”
The White House also announced two new appointments to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom: Sharon Kleinbaum, rabbi at New York City’s Beit Simchat Torah, and Khizr Khan, a Pakistani-born lawyer and founder of the Constitution Literacy and National Unity Center.
Kleinbaum serves on the New York City Commission on Human Rights and is a member of the mayor’s faith-based advisory council. Kahn, the Gold Star parent of U.S. Army Capt. Humayn Khan, who was killed while serving in Iraq and posthumously was awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star with valor, is best known for his speech at the 2016 Democratic National Convention.
Everett affirmed the appointment of Khan and Kleinbaum, saying “both have a background in human rights advocacy.”
“They will bring unique experience to the commission, whose mission is to advance international freedom of religion or belief, by independently assessing and unflinchingly confronting threats to this fundamental right.”
Nadine Maenza, chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, voiced support for new commissioners, as well as the nominations for ambassador and special envoy.
“We look forward to working closely with Rashad Hussain and Dr. Deborah Lipstadt, once confirmed, to develop new ways for the United States to promote the freedom of religion or belief around the world,” she said.
“Global religious freedom violations continue to be a pervasive threat to our national security and global stability. The U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, along with the special envoy, play an essential role in U.S. efforts to counter that threat.”