Rabbi Saperstein's Tribute to Rep. Frank Wolf

Statement of Rabbi David Saperstein
Former U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom
Tribute to former Rep. Frank Wolf
July 19, 2017
Kennedy Caucus Room
Russell Senate Office Building

When the framers of our Nation created a system of republican representation with the hope that intelligent, moral, compassionate, determined – no, relentless – and selfless representatives of the people would be elected to our House of representatives – I suspect they had in mind someone just like Rep. Frank Rudolf Wolf.

I know that most of you assume that the bonds between Rep. Wolf and myself are based on our well-known, identical views on environmental concerns, gun control, planned parenthood, gay rights, the ACA…. But you would be wrong.

I mean talk about strange bed-fellows.  But the bond between us (as Rep. Wolf has with Tony Hall and many other liberals in and out of government) is forged with titanium bonds of human rights, religious freedom, liberty and justice for all.

The framers who dreamed of religious freedom would have been so proud of what Rep. Wolf did with many of you at his side to drive America’s agenda for religious freedom and liberty into the international arena. 

And I am confident, Frank, that your fellow Virginian, Thomas Jefferson, with his international interests and his vision of universal human rights would be so immensely proud of what America is doing for the cause of religious freedom around the world, and its work in mobilizing other nations to stand up for oppressed minorities.

We know there is so much more we need to be doing. Yet, it is equally true that across the world, America is seen as the gold standard of religious freedom.  In every corner of the world where religious persecution or other human rights violations prevail, Jefferson’s words “All men are created equal,” was a cherished talisman of hope in the face of despair.  I saw first-hand the power of these words to nourish, to sustain, to inspire dreams of freedom throughout the world. As Muhtar Kent, the respected long-time head of Coca Cola until this year observed:  There is no containing these words. No mere border, no barrier of language can stop them. No dictator, no army, no secret police can silence them. Not now and not ever. “

For two years I was honored to serve this nation in this cause so dear to your hearts and our honoree’s heart.  Throughout my career’s work on this issue and others, Frank Wolf had been my leader, my friend, my patient guide, always offering wise and principled advice. And during those two years, I would only point out that I regret I did not have the chance to serve under the impact of the Frank Wolf International Religious Freedom Act passed in the closing days of the last administration, which will strengthen and further prioritize our religious freedom effort. In light of my experience as I visited the oppressed, the imprisoned, the persecuted – 35 countries, 82 cities, and numerous rural areas, 340K miles – I would make three observations about our honoree.

First, almost everywhere I went across the globe, no matter how dangerous, how remote, it seemed Frank Wolf had just left.

Second, what he helped create in the 21st Century Wilberforce Institute was a powerful tool in leveraging this issue further up the agenda of the Congress and the administration.

And third, everywhere those who faced persecution knew of Frank Wolf.

For the Ahmadiyah Muslim communities seeking freedom and safety, they see Frank Wolf as their champion. For the Baha’is in Iran and across the globe seeking just to live their religion peaceably, they see Frank Wolf as their champion. For the prisoners of conscience in Sudan, they see Frank Wolf as their champion. For the beleaguered Christian, Yezidi and other minorities in the Near East facing genocidal devastation and ethnic cleansing, they see Frank Wolf as their champion – and among the many things that Secretary of State Kerry did that made me proud, none exceeded his genocide designation. And Sec. Kerry and Rep. Wolf shared with clarity that the real test is not just how we call what is happening, but what we do about it.  There is much in America which has made it possible for minorities to return to their home community – and I am proud of the role my old office played and continues to play in this regard – but so much more that needs to be done.

But not just in the realm of religious freedom – for the victims of human trafficking across the globe and the victims of prison rape in our nation’s prisons. They know Frank Wolf has been their champion, and he is there for them now.

And few who are gathered here today and all our kindred spirits across the globe who dream, and fight, and make real freedom equality and liberty for all God’s children, we know with absolute certainty that our honoree has been, remains and ever will be our champion.

God bless you Frank Wolf and in the words of my Jewish tradition may you continue m’chayil l’chayil, from strength to strength to strength, all the days of your life – for the sake of all God’s children who still need you.