President Biden on Friday announced his intention to nominate four people to religious freedom posts, including the first Muslim to serve in one of the top roles; a noted Holocaust scholar as a special envoy on anti-Semitism; an openly gay Jewish cleric, and a Muslim immigrant who famously clashed with former President Donald Trump.
The president nominated Rashad Hussain to serve as U.S. ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom, a post most recently held by former Kansas governor Sam Brownback.
Mr. Biden also named Khizr Khan — noted for his 2016 Democratic National Convention speech claiming that then GOP presidential nominee Mr. Trump “had sacrificed nothing” for the nation — to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, or USCIRF, an advisory body.
Mr. Khan and his wife, Ghazala, lost their 27-year-old son, U.S. Army Captain Humayun Saquib Khan, in a 2004 suicide attack in Iraq. At the convention in 2016, Mr. Khan pulled a pocket-sized copy of the Constitution from his jacket and questioned whether Mr. Trump had ever read it.
Holocaust scholar and Emory University Professor Deborah Lipstadt was nominated as Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, an ambassadorial position.
Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, an openly gay cleric who has led Congregation Beit Simchat Torah in New York City since 1992, is Mr. Biden’s second USCIRF nominee. She served on the panel in 2020.
“Sharon Kleinbaum’s longtime leadership of Congregation Beth Simchat Torah and her outspoken activism have made her a powerful voice for religious freedom, LGBTQ rights and other human rights in America and around the world,” the White House said.
The ambassador-level appointments require Senate confirmation, while the USCIRF appointments do not.
The White House said Mr. Hussain, a Yale law school graduate who also holds master’s degrees from Harvard government and in Arabic and Islamic Studies, has a strong background in federal service. He serves on the National Security Council’s director for partnerships and global engagement.
Mr. Hussain previously was senior counsel at the Department of Justice’s National Security Division. During the Obama administration, he was a special envoy to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, special envoy for strategic counterterrorism communications, and a deputy associate White House Counsel. He speaks Urdu, Arabic and Spanish,
The nominations drew a positive response from the Council on Islamic-American Relations, or CAIR, as well as other religious freedom leaders.
““The nominations of Rashad Hussain and Khizr Khan represent an important step in the Biden administration’s commitment to build a government that reflects the diversity of our nation. It is important that American Muslims – and particularly Muslim youth — see themselves and their values reflected in our nation’s government,” said Nihad Awad, the group’s executive director.
The Rev. Johnnie Moore, a recent USCIRF commissioner, hailed the appointments.
“There will, as always, be divergent points of view on certain ideas, policies and strategies, but international religious freedom continues to be — and must remain — almost entirely bipartisan,” he said. “In fact, it must be nonpartisan.”
Religious Freedom & Business Foundation President Brian J. Grim told The Washington Times, “It is extremely encouraging to see that President Biden is nominating people who have the ability to connect religious affairs and religious freedom to other important issues of the day, including security, the economy and even LGBTQ rights, which benefit from religious freedom, as our research shows.”
Katrina Lantos Swett, president of the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights & Justice, said there is “a vital need for the United States to show leadership on the issue of international religious freedom.”
“We hope Congress moves swiftly to confirm these nominees, so they can begin the administration’s work on religious freedom and combating antisemitism in earnest,” she said.
Ms. Lipstadt, author of numerous books on the Nazi persecution and slaughter of 6 million Jews during World War II, prevailed when historian David Irving sued her for libel after she called him a “Holocaust denier,” sparking a lawsuit that made international headlines.
“We are thrilled that Professor Lipstadt, who is a longstanding Jewish Federation leader, has been chosen for this crucial role in leading the charge against antisemitism,” said Mark Wilf, board chair of the Jewish Federation of North America. “We hope that her nomination will be confirmed. We would be honored to work with her in restoring a sense of safety and security to all the members of the Jewish community.”
Mark Bane, president of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, said the group is heartened by Ms. Lipstadt‘s expected role.
“She is a leader with great moral courage; her dedicated work, clear voice in fighting Holocaust denial and preserving the memory of the attempted destruction of the Jewish people make her an exemplary choice for this role,” he said.