President Obama nominates first non-Christian as ambassador for religious freedom

WikimediaRabbi David Saperstein

President Obama nominated Rabbi David Nathan Saperstein to head the State Department's Office of International Religious Freedom on Monday.

If confirmed, Rabbi Saperstein will be the first non-Christian to hold the position of ambassador-at-large.

Rabbi Saperstein, 66, was named the most influential rabbi in America by Newsweek in 2009, and was the only rabbi in the White House's Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. He has been the director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism for over 40 years, and has advocated for religious freedom throughout his career.

Saperstein helped pass the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, which was cited in Hobby Lobby's Supreme Court victory last month. The Court found that the retail craft store does not have to cover their employee's emergency contraception and certain intrauterine devices because of the owner's religious beliefs.

Saperstein disagreed with the Court's decision. "We believe the court was wrong in saying there are religious claims corporations can make," he told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. "Corporations don't have souls or consciences the way that people or associations of like-minded people do."

The State Department is expected to release an international freedom report later today.

President Obama thanked Saperstein for accepting the nomination in a statement released Monday.

"I am grateful that Rabbi Saperstein has chosen to dedicate his talent to serving the American people at this important time for our country," he said. "I look forward to working with him in the months and years ahead."

Political and religious leaders have also voiced their support of Saperstein's nomination.

"Rabbi Saperstein is a respected thinker and leader who brings gravity to this important task," Southern Baptists' Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission President Russell 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."