USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan U.S. federal government commission. USCIRF Commissioners are appointed by the President and the leadership of both political parties in the Senate and the House of Representatives. USCIRF’s principal responsibilities are to review the facts and circumstances of violations of religious freedom internationally and to make policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State and Congress.

Suzan Johnson Cook Biography

International Religious Freedom

Term of Appointment: 05/16/2011 to present

Suzan D. Johnson Cook was sworn in as Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom on May 16, 2011.

Prior to joining the State Department, Ambassador Johnson Cook served as the senior pastor and CEO of the Bronx Christian Fellowship Baptist Church in New York City from 1996-2010. She was also the founder and president of Wisdom Women Worldwide Center and the owner of Charisma Speakers.

In 1993, Johnson Cook was a White House Fellow on the Domestic Policy Council. In that role, she advised President Bill Clinton on a range of issues including homelessness, violence, and community empowerment. She also worked with the Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development on faith-based initiatives from 1994 until 1997. President Clinton appointed her in 1997 to serve on his National Initiative on Race as his only faith advisor.

Johnson Cook held the position of Chaplain to the New York City Police Department for twenty-one years, the only woman to serve in that role. She was also a founder and board member of the Multi-Ethnic Center in New York City. From 1983-1996, she served as Senior Pastor to the Mariners Temple Baptist Church, and was a professor at New York Theological Seminary from 1988-1996.

Johnson Cook has travelled to five continents to promote religious freedom. She has led interfaith delegations to Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, and throughout the Caribbean. She worked with World Vision in Ruschlikon, Switzerland in its efforts to combat global poverty, and travelled to Zimbabwe and South Africa to meet with Zulu faith leaders to promote interfaith dialogue and tolerance. As a young woman, Johnson Cook worked with Operation Crossroads Africa, where she participated in a cross-cultural exchange with student groups in Ghana and Nigeria. She also spent time living and studying in Valencia, Spain.

Johnson Cook is the recipient of several awards, including the Woman of Conscience Award, the Martin Luther King Award, the Visionary Leaders Award, and has also authored ten books. She received her Bachelor of Science in Speech from Emerson College in Boston in 1976 and a Master of Arts from Columbia University Teachers College in New York City in 1978. She completed a Master of Divinity from Union Theological Seminary in New York and a Doctor of Ministry from United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio, in 1983 and 1990, respectively. She was also the recipient of the President’s Administrative Fellowship at Harvard University, where she served as Associate Dean and later as professor.

Leonard A. Leo, Chair

Executive Vice President of the Federalist Society

Appointed by: Hon. Mitch McConnell (R), Senate Minority Leader 

Dr. Don Argue, Vice Chair

Chancellor, Northwest University

Appointed by: Hon. Harry Reid (D), Senate Majority Leader

Dr. Elizabeth H. Prodromou, Vice Chair

Associate Director of the Institute on Culture, Religion and World Affairs and Assistant Professor of International Relations at Boston University

Appointed by: Hon. Nancy Pelosi (D), House Majority Leader

Dr. Azizah al Hibri, Commissioner

Appointed by: President Barack Obama

Felice D. Gaer, Commissioner

Director, Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights; The American Jewish Committee

Appointed by: President Barack Obama

Dr. Richard D. Land, Commissioner

President, Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission

Appointed by: Hon. Mitch McConnell (R), Senate Minority Leader

William Shaw, Commissioner

Immediate Past President of the National Baptist Convention, USA. Inc. and Pastor of White Rock Baptist Church in Philadelphia

Appointed by: Barack Obama, President

Nina Shea, Commissioner

Director of the Center for Religious Freedom, Hudson Institute

Appointed by: Hon. John Boehner (R), Speaker of the House

Ted Van Der Meid, Commissioner

Appointed by:Hon. John Boehner (R), Speaker of the House

Message from the Chair

Leon A. Leo

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom continues to be an important advocate for ensuring that freedom of religion and belief are an integral part of the United States’s foreign policy and national security agendas. It achieves this in a number of ways, including by providing unique data and candid insights into the dimensions and impact of religious repression and intolerance in countries worldwide.

The Commissioners on this bipartisan federal body assess, propose, and press for U.S. foreign policy action to advance freedom of thought, conscience, and religion and other freedoms needed to protect people at risk of abuses, such as killing, detention, or torture.  In carrying out this work, Commissioners begin by examining conditions in countries, then review how the U.S. government is responding, and as warranted, formulate options for further action. Commission recommendations and reports have prodded a wide array of new bills in Congress, policy measures by the Executive Branch, and coordinated and targeted action by the civil society world.

Through its work, the Commission seeks to advance the visibility of and serious thinking about how the United States can best address the challenges of religious extremism, intolerance, and repression throughout the world. In short, we are committed to ensuring that the “First Freedom,” as guaranteed by international human rights law, extends to all corners of the globe.


U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom
800 North Capitol Street, NW
Suite 790
Washington, DC 20002
Tel: 202-523-3240
Fax: 202-523-5020       communications@uscirf.gov



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