WASHINGTON (JTA) – Rabbi David Saperstein, the new U.S. envoy for religious freedoms, said one priority will be to identify moderates in religious communities who could marginalize extremists.
Speaking Friday at his swearing-in at the State Department, Saperstein said he would work with U.S. civil society groups “in shaping policies that contribute to isolating and delegitimizing extremist religious voices.”
Saperstein, who headed the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center for 40 years, said he would seek to protect the right not to believe as well as the right to practice religion. He listed as another of his priorities the repeal of anti-blasphemy and apostasy laws.
That’s a signal that the Obama administration will intensify its pushback against attempts in international forums by some Muslim nations in recent years to equate blasphemy with religious discrimination.
Another priority, Saperstein said, will be to coordinate with his counterparts around the world to counteract religious discrimination.
“With my gifted Canadian counterpart, Ambassador Andrew Bennett, we are committed to mobilizing a contact group of ministers and ambassadors for religious freedom in countries all across the globe,” he said. “Not just in the Western countries but in the Southern Hemisphere as well – to stand for religious freedom, to coordinate and reinforce our common efforts.”
Secretary of State John Kerry noted recent anti-Semitic and anti-Islamic violence in Europe in describing the need for the post.
“Major European cities are struggling to cope with the aftermath of terror attacks amid evidence of anti-Semitism, radicalization, Islamophobia,” Kerry said.