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Obama nominates religious freedom ambassador after 9-month delay

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Secretary of State John Kerry, joined by Rabbi David Saperstein, nominated to become ambassador at large for international religious freedom at the State Department, left, and Tom Malinowski, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, right, speaks at the State Department in Washington, Monday, July 28, 2014. (AP)

President Obama on Monday announced a long-waited nominee for the job of "religious freedom" ambassador, after the post sat vacant for nine months.  

Rabbi David Nathan Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, was chosen for the position of ambassador at large for international religious freedom, which is subject to Senate confirmation.

Secretary of State John Kerry also introduced him at a press briefing late Monday morning, saying that religious freedom is an "integral part of our global diplomatic engagement."

The post, however, has been problematic for the Obama administration since the beginning. The post, which was created for the purpose of promoting and defending religious freedom around the world, initially sat vacant for two years until it was filled by Suzan Johnson Cook in 2011. But Cook left in October, creating a vacancy at a time when religious persecution -- particularly in the Middle East -- was flaring abroad.

Kerry, in releasing the State Department's latest report on religious freedom, cited Islamist militants’ recent demand that Iraqi Christians convert, pay a tax, or face execution. The report itself said millions have been forced to flee their homes because of religious beliefs. 

Despite a bipartisan call to focus on religious freedom, Saperstein is a controversial pick in some circles. 

One issue is that he spoke out recently on the Supreme Court decision which determined certain "closely held" for-profit businesses could cite religious objections to opt out of ObamaCare's requirement to provide free contraception to workers. "This is deeply, deeply troubling," Saperstein said at the time. 

He also signed on to a letter urging Obama not to permit religious groups to have exemptions from a recent executive order he signed protecting federal workers from discrimination over sexual orientation. 

Saperstein has served on several boards including the National Religious Partnership for the Environment and the President's Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. He also previously served on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

"I am grateful that Rabbi Saperstein has chosen to dedicate his talent to serving the American people at this important time for our country.  I look forward to working with him in the months and years ahead," Obama said in a statement. 

Fox News' Shannon Bream contributed to this report.