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Rep. Smith and Rabbi Saperstein Receive the 2017 Thomas Jefferson IRF Champion Award

Last week, the International Religious Freedom Roundtable co-chairs Greg Mitchell and Chris Seiple presented the 2017 Thomas Jefferson International Religious Freedom Champion award to Rep. Chris Smith (R – NJ) and Ambassador Rabbi David Saperstein. This award is bestowed every year to a Republican and a Democrat who fight for religious freedom for persecuted people around the world. The IRF Roundtable is made up of individuals from non-governmental organizations who gather regularly to discuss IRF issues and propose joint advocacy actions to address issues and challenges.

These champions often work collaboratively. For instance, Chris Smith shepherded H.R. 75 through Congress. The bill called for the State Department to designate ISIS crimes as genocide. Ambassador Saperstein worked within the State Department to demonstrate why this was, in fact, an accurate description of the crimes taking place in Iraq.

Chris Smith has sponsored and co-sponsored more than 40 billsthat are now law, many related to justice issues such as IRF, human trafficking, international abduction, and support for torture victims. He was the author of the Frank R. Wolf act which elevated the importance of IRF issues within the State Department.

Ambassador Saperstein, a Democrat from New York, pushed past a reluctance among some State Department civil servants to give this issue the spotlight it deserves. He sat in courts at trials for prisoners of conscience. A U.S. Ambassador showing up to witness such proceedings reminds the judges that the most powerful nation in the world is watching, and that it stands on the side of freedom.

These two international religious freedom champions disagree with each other on many policies, but work together for the sake of the persecuted.

Now we are hoping for another hero of human dignity to be installed as the next ambassador for International Religious Freedom. Gov. Sam Brownback is awaiting U.S. Senate confirmation. Both Rep. Smith and Ambassador Saperstein have said he is an excellent choice.

“There is so much more to do. People of faith around the world face genocide, torture, imprisonment, and severe restrictions on the most fundamental decisions of faith and conscience.” -Rep. Chris Smith (R-New Jersey)

Nathan Wineinger Director of Government Policy

Take Action:

1. Call your Senators’ offices today and encourage them to support the confirmation of Gov. Sam Brownback as Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom. You can find their contact information here:

2. Watch this video about #RedWednesday to see how you can be another Wilberforce and stand for the oppressed and get resources to help here:

3. Read the book Amazing Grace or watch the movie by the same name about the life and work of William Wilberforce


(c) 2017 Wilberforce Initiative

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