Remarks at Swearing-In Ceremony for Suzan Johnson Cook, Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom
Secretary of State
Now, it is a testament to Sujay, as many of us like to call her, and her strong New York roots, that we have such a great turnout here today. (Laughter.) And there are a number of members of Congress, as we just heard, who are desperately trying to get here despite the voting requirements in the House of Representatives, and so we’re hoping that they will be here because I’m feeling like I’m a senator from New York again – (laughter) – and I want some more company.
Now, it has been a wait worthwhile, because in Sujay we have a passionate, visionary, and experienced defender of religious freedom. (Applause.) And we have a big stack of issues just waiting for her, because she and I will work in very close partnership in defending the values that those of us in this room hold so dear. Now, there is no doubt we will be busy, because around the world authoritarian regimes abuse their own citizens, violent extremists attempt to exploit sectarian tensions, and religious freedom is under threat from both quiet intolerance and violent attacks. The Obama Administration is dedicated to the rights of all people everywhere. Everyone, no matter his or her religion, should be allowed to practice their beliefs freely and safely.
Now some of you might wonder, if you don’t know her very well, how can we be so sure that Sujay is the right person for this difficult and critical position at this particular moment in history. Well, I could tell you about her many firsts. She was the first woman appointed chaplain of the New York City Police Department. (Applause.) She was the first woman, first black woman, to become senior pastor in the 200-year history of the American Baptist Churches of America. (Applause.) She was the first female president of the Hampton University Ministers Conference. (Applause.) She has been called the Harriet Tubman for women in ministry – (applause) – and one of my personal favorites, Billy Graham and Oprah rolled into one. (Laughter.) And she’s also been deeply involved in international activities her entire life.
I could go on and on, but she is going to demonstrate every single day why she is the person for this job at this time. To many, she is more than a minister, more than a spiritual leader, although she is certainly that. She is a passionate advocate for the God-given rights of people everywhere, no matter which god they believe gave them those rights in the first place. And she is a leader in bridging faith and public service, a champion of civil rights, a trailblazer, a pioneer. She’s always faced difficult odds head on.
When she first decided to become a minister, there weren’t many female ministers, and there were churches, as we know, that would not accept a female minister. But instead of stepping back, she stood up. She studied hard, and against long odds, she became ordained. She did it her own way and she blazed the path for others to follow.
Now, I have attended her sermons, and I have been swept away – (laughter) – by her infectious ability to touch everyone in her church, or in the Apollo Theater for that matter. (Laughter.) I have watched her career from her days as a White House fellow, to assistant secretary of Housing and Urban Development, to an accomplished author, speaker, and activist.
Now, my long years of friendship with the ambassador – (laughter) – have certainly demonstrated unequivocally to me she knows how to build bridges between people. For somebody who is such a good talker, she’s an even better listener. She can foster dialogue between people. She knows how to promote respect and tolerance, and she will bring those skills to this position that she will now hold with such honor.
I first met her when she worked on my husband’s domestic policy council in the White House all those years ago. She was introduced to me then as the Baptist preacher from the Bronx. (Laughter.) And since Bill was a Baptist from Arkansas – (laughter) – and I was in a mixed marriage as a Methodist – (laughter) – I was looking to her for a little translation. (Laughter.) So some people call her Pastor Cook, some people call her Dr. Sujay. But finally, after a long wait, we can call her ambassador. (Applause.)
So we are ready for the official swearing-in, and accompanied and supported by these handsome young men – there we go – (laughter) – you’ll raise your right hand and repeat after me.
(The Oath of Office was administered.)
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