Religious liberty takes center stage in diplomacy with Iran

AP Photo/Brendan McDermid, Pool — AP photo Hasan Rouhani, President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, addresses the 68th United … Continued

AP Photo/Brendan McDermid, Pool — AP photo Hasan Rouhani, President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, addresses the 68th United Nations.

President Obama’s recent phone conversation with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was not only historic, it was a major step forward in defense of religious liberty against ever-increasing persecution.

A couple of weeks ago we wrote about the plight of a U.S. citizen, Pastor Saeed Abedini, imprisoned in Iran for his Christian faith. Abedini has done nothing wrong. He has not even violated Iranian law, which recognizes Christianity as a minority religion. Yet, he has been imprisoned, beaten, and tormented for his religious beliefs.

September 26th was the one-year mark of his wrongful imprisonment by the Iranian regime one year separated from his wife and children who are waiting for their father to be returned home to the U.S.

On that day, thousands of people gathered in dozens of cities around the world to pray for Pastor Saeed. We participated in a prayer vigil for Pastor Saeed in front of the White House. Joined by Members of Congress, including Senator Ted Cruz and Representatives Trent Franks and Robert Pittenger, and concerned Americans, we knelt for prayer exercising our greatest right as Americans in front of the White House.

The very next day, President Obama spoke with President Rouhani about Pastor Saeed. It was the first time in 35 years that a U.S. President had spoken with the President of Iran.

It was also the first time that President Obama had personally called for Pastor Saeed’s release.

In that short phone call, Pastor Saeed, and thus the issue of religious liberty, was elevated to a top priority for the U.S. with Iran.

President Rouhani must show the world that his nation can respect the religious liberty of its own people if we are to trust that his nation is changing.

President Obama echoed this call. In one phone call, he raised the case of this imprisoned U.S. citizen and the issue of religious liberty in Iran to new diplomatic heights.

All those of us who are fighting to defend religious liberty and human rights globally are grateful.

It is a tremendous step forward, and we are already seeing an impact.

Pastor Saeed, in his short weekly visitation behind glass walls with his Iranian family, said that he had already heard that President Obama had raised his case with the Iranian President. He heard news of it in his jail cell listening to Iranian media.

Not only does Iran’s leadership know that religious liberty is a priority for the U.S. in any diplomatic relations, Iran’s people know. The same people that voted to elect President Rouhani because he claimed to be a moderate now know. They know President Rouhani now has an opportunity to make good on that claim to show the world and the Iranian people that a new age has begun in Iran.

In just the last few weeks, we have seen renewed efforts by our nation’s leaders to put religious liberty and human rights front and center of future diplomatic talks with Iran and to see that this U.S. citizen is returned to his family in the U.S.

Senator Ted Cruz introduced a resolution calling for Pastor Saeed’s release, Pastor Saeed’s Senator, James Risch (ID), has been continually outspoken, Congressman Pittenger and Senator Lindsey Graham each wrote Congressional letters on Pastor Saeed’s behalf joined by dozens of Members of Congress, Senator Marco Rubio wrote an Op-Ed highlighting Pastor Saeed and the plight of Christians in Iran, and now President Obama has spoken out.

Each of these statements, resolutions, phone calls, and the indispensible behind the scenes work accompanying them sends a clear signal to Iran: Religious liberty is a national priority for the United States.

As Pastor Saeed’s wife, Naghmeh, asked when she testified before Congress earlier this year:

That question is being answered in a meaningful and impactful way. We are thankful and encouraged by President Obama’s willingness to speak out and make religious liberty a top priority, and we urge him to continue to do so. It could be a game changer, not just for Pastor Saeed but for thousands more persecuted like him.

Pastor Saeed was once again able to see his Iranian family this week. He is ready to come home, anxious to see his wife and children once again.

Iran is on notice. The world is watching. Iran must release this imprisoned American Pastor.

Jordan Sekulow is executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ). Matthew Clark is an attorney at the ACLJ. Follow them on Twitter: @JordanSekulow and @_MatthewClark.

  • Openletter2004

    I fail to see what the difference is between how Iran practices “religious freedom” and how the communist, socialist, Marxist, progressive Democrats practice religious freedom here in the USA..

    Both define “religious freedom” as being able to believe anything you want as long as you only practice what the government approves of.

    So, here in the USA under, the communist, socialist, Marxist, progressive Democrats, you can believe that artificial birth control, in vitro fertilization, sterilizations and abortion are sins, but, you are going to be forced by the government to buy an insurance policy that pays for artificial birth control, in vitro fertilization, sterilizations and abortion for the express purpose of subsiding the cost of those services for people that have no religious moral objections.

    So,, People of Faith in the USA have no religious freedom. Their 1st Amendment guarantee of “free exercise” is being crushed by the communist, socialist, Marxist, progressive Democrats just as surly as the religious freedom of everyone that isn’t the right kind of Muslim is be crushed in Iran.

  • A

    “Abedini has done nothing wrong.”
    Lets talk about this guy. He was deported the first time around by Iran. He then enters Iran a second time through Turkey by bus. Ask him why he would go there the second time? He knew what he was doing, spreading zionist ACLJ propaganda, and still went there so bear the consequences.

  • WorldView

    You forgot to complain that deranged and crazy Americans are deprived of their 2nd Amendment right to own the most deadly weapons and consequently will not be able to commit mass murder of their fellow citizens.

  • WorldView

    A distinction should be made between the Christians who live in Iran and those who are converted to Christianity by do-gooder crazy evangelists using whatever magical powers that they possess. More than 100,000 Christians live in Iran with no problems. But, unfortunately apostasy is currently illegal in Iran like in many other Muslim countries. So, these crazy evangelists should just stay away from Iran.

  • Katie.

    Dear A,
    Please check your facts as it appears you are basing your comments on assumptions:

    “He was deported the first time around by Iran.”
    Pastor Saeed Abedini was never deported. He and his wife chose to leave Iran because they believed their presence was endangering other Iranian Christians at the time by attracting the attentions of the new more fundamentalist government which was disregarding Iran’s own laws by harassing and threatening members of a legally recognized Iranian religious minority.

    “He then enters Iran a second time through Turkey by bus.”
    Pastor Saeed has openly come and gone many times between the U.S. and Iran since moving to America and becoming an American citizen. He has been working closely with the Iranian government to build and establish a government approved orphanage for Iranian children who have no where else to go and who, very sadly, are still living in the streets, because Saeed was imprisoned just before the orphanage could be opened.

    “Ask him why he would go there the second time?”
    Pastor Abedini continued returning to Iran because the government agreed that he could do this without threat of detention as long as he did not work with the house-church movement; a promise Pastor Saeed made and faithfully kept: he loves Iranians and he deeply wants to care for them even though the expression of that care was limited by the Iranian government to building secular orphanages.

    “He knew what he was doing,
    spreading zionist ACLJ propaganda, and still went there so bear the consequences.”
    I have not seen anything anywhere suggesting that the Abedini family even knew of the ACLJ organization prior to Pastor Saeed’s imprisonment in September of 2012.

    Please research the facts. Pastor Saeed is an American husband and father who’s family misses him keenly every day.

  • A

    Katie, I am an Iranian. I have been following the facts of this case. If Abedini was working with the Iranian government’s approval, he would not be in prison right now. No amount of whitewashing will change the facts that he brought this upon himself.

  • ConinMA

    Anyone who really wants a gun can get one. Where have you been for the last 50 years?

  • CCNL

    Once again the easy and peaceful solution (only for the new visitors to this blog):

    Putting thumbs down on all religion in less than ten seconds: Priceless !!!

    • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Abraham i.e. the foundations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are non-existent.

    • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Moses i.e the pillars of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have no strength of purpose.

    • There was no Gabriel i.e. Islam fails as a religion. Christianity partially fails.

    • There was no Easter i.e. Christianity completely fails as a religion.

    • There was no Moroni i.e. Mormonism is nothing more than a business cult.

    • Sacred/revered cows, monkey gods, castes, reincarnations and therefore Hinduism fails as a religion.

    • Fat Buddhas here, skinny Buddhas there, reincarnated/reborn Buddhas everywhere makes for a no on Buddhism.

    • A constant cycle of reincarnation until enlightenment is reached and belief that various beings (angels?, tinkerbells? etc) exist that we, as mortals, cannot comprehend makes for a no on Sikhism.

    Added details available upon written request.

    A quick search will put the kibosh on any other groups calling themselves a religion.

    e.g. Taoism

    “The origins of Taoism are unclear. Traditionally, Lao-tzu who lived in the sixth century is regarded as its founder. Its early philosophic foundations and its later beliefs and rituals are two completely different ways of life. Today (1982) Taoism claims 31,286,000 followers.

    Legend says that Lao-tzu was immaculately conceived by a shooting star; carried in his mother’s womb for eighty-two years; and born a full grown wise old man. “

  • Anna Bennett

    I feel the sooner that Pastor Saeed gets to come home to America & can be with his wife & children again the better. 13 months is way to long to be kept from them.