Nearly six months after his nomination, America's first non-Christian ambassador of international religious freedom was confirmed by the US Senate 62-35 on Friday. Rabbi David Saperstein, a former law professor and director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, fills a position vacant since October 2013.

“Like most Jews, I know all too well that, over the centuries, the Jewish people have been a quintessential victim of religious persecution, ethnic cleansing, and demonization,” Saperstein said at his confirmation hearing in September. “We have learned, first hand, the costs to the universal rights, security and well-being of religious communities when good people remain silent in the face of such persecution.”

CT previously noted how many evangelical advocates affirmed Saperstein’s nomination, including outgoing Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission’s Russell Moore, the Institute for Global Engagement's Chris Seiple, and Sojourners.

Earlier this week, 74 religious freedom groups (including Open Doors USA and Christian Solidarity Worldwide) and individuals—such as the Hudson Institute's Nina Shea, China Aid's Kody Kness, the Institute on Religion and Democracy's Faith McDonnell, and Northland's Joel Hunter—called upon the Senate to confirm Saperstein. "Rabbi Saperstein not only knows the issue, but he knows Washington and the world," wrote the International Religious Freedom Roundtable, noting "he has almost universal support from across the theological and political spectrum."

Following Saperstein's confirmation, Moore, his colleague Barrett Duke, and the National Latino Evangelical Coalition's Gabriel Salguero tweeted their approval.

RNS’s Mark Silk examined why 34 Republicans voted against Saperstein, including Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), who recently championed the legislation which created the position. Silk concluded that Saperstein's pro-choice positions, critique of the Hobby Lobby verdict, and “the simple fact that he was an Obama nominee” cost him Republican support.

Prior to the Senate’s vote, Thomas Farr at Georgetown University’s Religious Freedom Project, offered a different take on Saperstein’s relationship with conservatives:

Notwithstanding his liberal political approach to domestic religious freedom issues Saperstein has earned respect among conservatives by convincing them he will work very hard to elevate the status of his office, policy, and position within the State Department. He clearly wants to make a difference in the growing crisis of religious freedom, especially in the Middle East. He has also won their support by assuring them that he will advocate for religious freedom for all religious groups, including those that might oppose him on issues such as abortion or same-sex marriage (no easy undertaking in an administration that has mounted assaults on domestic religious groups over those very issues). In short, many conservatives trust Saperstein even though they disagree with him. This is rare in Washington, DC.

The previous ambassador at large, African-American pastor Suzan Johnson Cook, resigned in 2013 after less than two years on the job. Cook was first tapped in 2010, but her nomination lagged in the Senate and expired later that year. She was renominated in 2011, and the Senate finally confirmed her as ambassador later that year.

Robert A. Seiple and John Hanford previously served in the position, which was created in 1998 as part of the International Religious Freedom Act.

Saperstein was a member of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom from 1999 to 2001, serving as its first chair from 1999 to 2000. He received a B.A. from Cornell University, an M.H.L. from Hebrew Union College, and a J.D. from American University.

CT previously noted when a panel faulted Obama in 2010 for lagging on religious freedom, and published an op-ed from Farr arguing that the administration had failed to make religious freedom a priority. A 2008 CT editorial argued the Bush administration was guilty of the same.

CT has also noted what international religious freedom groups think of the State Department vs. USCIRF, and why the Government Accountability Office wants the two organizations to patch things up.

[Image courtesy of the US Department of State - Flickr]