President George W. Bush completed his human rights team yesterday with the nomination of John V. Hanford III to be the U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom.

Hanford is an influential foreign-affairs aide to Senator Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) and a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

The ambassador works with American embassies to obtain reports of religious persecution and recommends policies to the Secretary of State for an annual report to the President on the promotion of religious freedom abroad. This year's report will be released shortly.

Last week the President nominated three members to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. In June he filled human-rights positions in the State Department and on the National Security Council. The presidential appointments to the commission are Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention, Catholic Bishop William F. Murphy of New York, and foreign affairs scholar Shirin Raziuddin Tahir-Kheli.

Late this summer White House staffers indicated that the President was planning to increase his emphasis on issues of international religious freedom and persecution (ct, Oct. 1, p. 23). Bush said in May that his administration would advocate "a moral sense, based upon the deep American commitment to freedom of religion," that countries must respect the rights of believers of all faiths.

The U.S. ambassadorship on religious liberty has been vacant since the resignation of Robert A. Seiple, formerly of World Vision, a year ago.

The White House says that Hanford was the lead architect of the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act. Hanford forged a compromise between human-rights advocates, who favored public shaming and threats of trade cutoffs, and those who promote free-market business interests.

"I have a balanced approach," Hanford says, "but my life and record says I have a passion for religious freedom."

The debate on the role of religious rights in foreign policy has again been placed center stage by the September 11 terrorist attacks and the Taliban's arrest of Christian humanitarian aid workers in Afghanistan. The Bush administration is trying to balance human-rights concerns with the need for alliances in the war on terrorism.

Several human rights advocates have told Christianity Today that now is the time to champion religious freedom. "The best long-term defense against this type of terrorism is to encourage every society to be an open society," says a member of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

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Striking the proper balance between advocacy and practicality will be Hanford's first task.

Tony Carnes is Senior News Writer for Christianity Today.

Related Elsewhere

See additional coverage of John V. Hanford's nomination in The Washingon Times.

The former ambassador for religious freedom, Robert Seiple, resigned last September to set up a global think tank on religious freedom.

The International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA), signed October 27, 1998, set up the Commission on International Religious Freedom and created the at-large ambassadorship for religious freedom.

Last week, Bush appointed three new members to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. The commission elected Michael K. Young, dean of the George Washington University Law School, as chairman.

In May, the commission released its annual report, finding that religious persecution is on the rise in India, Indonesia, Iran, North Korea, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Vietnam.

Previous Christianity Today coverage of the commission's work includes:

Freedom Panel Alleges Genocide | U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom makes suggestion on Sudan's worsening abuses. (May 4, 2001)
Religious Freedom Delegation Gets Cold Shoulder | Some Coptic Christians worry that foreign intervention on their behalf would spell trouble. (May 1, 2001)
Religious Freedom Act: One Year Later | Little progress seen so far, but advocates see hope for future. (Dec. 27, 1999)
'America Legislates for the World!' Muslims respond to the U.S. State Department report on religious freedom" (Nov. 19, 1999)
Religious Freedom Report Released (Oct. 25, 1999)
Religious Persecution Bill Encounters Stiff Resistance (Oct. 5, 1998)