Ken Starr on shortlist to head Office of International Religious Freedom

Washington — President Trump is reportedly considering naming former Baylor University President Ken Starr to head the State Department's Office of International Religious Freedom.

The ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom monitors religious persecution and discrimination worldwide and develops programs to promote religious freedom, according to the State Department website.

The reports about possible picks for the position come a week after more than 700 religious leaders, scholars and human rights advocates signed a letter to President Trump, coordinated by the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative, that urges him to name an ambassador-at-large in the first 100 days of his presidency.

"By nominating an Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom in your first 100 days you can signal your commitment to people of faith and freedom of conscience, in a way that requires no new taxes and no new legislation while strengthening highly effective offices," it said.

Others rounding out the short list for the position include Nina Shea and Johnnie Moore, according to Foreign Policy, which first reported the picks on Feb. 9. Rabbi David Saperstein had served as ambassador for the last two years.

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Starr is best known for his work investigating President Bill Clinton's extramarital relationship with Monica Lewinsky that led to Clinton's impeachment. The Baylor Board of Regents removed him as president last year after an investigation into his mishandling of reports of sexual assault at the private Baptist university in Waco, Texas. He and the university later announced a mutual separation.

Not long afterward, he told the student newspaper, the Baylor Lariat, "I’m working very hard around the globe on issues of religious liberty for all persons. That was a high priority when I was privileged to serve at Baylor University."

Starr did not return requests for comment by the Dallas Morning News.

Shea is a human rights lawyer at the conservative Hudson Institute. She told Foreign Policy that she was not interested in the position and that, from her discussions, the Trump administration likely will break with the Obama administration on religious freedom issues.

Moore is a member of Trump's evangelical advisory board and author of "Defying ISIS: Preserving Christianity in the Place of its Birth and in your own Backyard." He told RNS he has heard "the same thing everybody else is hearing."

"I'm very, very engaged on the issue, and a lot of people have prodded me to be more involved. Almost as quickly as the election happened, a couple people asked me if I would ever be interested in that," he said.

He, too, suspects the Trump administration will approach international religious freedom differently than his predecessor.

"My experience as an advocate for persecuted religious people around the world over the course of the last administration is that the Obama State Department was not very interested in defending those who were persecuted for their religion. They wanted to frame it in different terms," Moore said.

"I think the present administration will take the role of faith in foreign policy, faith in human rights very seriously."


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