One of the highlights of this year’s CPAC conference was a panel discussion on religious freedom. Conservative author and columnist Cal Thomas, radio talk show host Dana Loesch, and Tony Perkins from the Family Research Council discussed the state of religious freedom and more specifically the treatment of Christians in America today. There was a general consensus among the panelists that the Obama administration is comfortable with such things as forcing Christians to engage in business practices that go against their beliefs and the targeting of Christian groups on college campuses.
But what made this discussion personal and hit home with many of the conference attendees was the speech given by Naghmeh Abedini. Naghmeh is the wife of imprisoned American Pastor Saeed Abedini. Abedini, born a Muslim in Iran, he immigrated to America, converted to Christianity and became a naturalized citizen. He had returned to Iran on several occasions. Two years ago he returned to Iran to help with the construction of an orphanage. He was arrested for converting to Christianity, proselytizing, and was sentenced to eight years in a harsh Iranian prison.
While Naghmeh has been thrust into the role of single mom to Rebekkah 8, and Jacob 7, organizations like the American Center for Law and Justice have been working behind the scenes to help secure Saeed’s release, but just exactly how much help are they, and Naghmeh receiving from the Obama administration?
On January 22 of this year, Naghmeh met with President Obama, but as she said in her speech to CPAC, there does not seem to be any resolution in sight. She says that U.S. officials often seem to dismiss Saeed’s dire situation. He is subject to regular beatings, and has been housed with ISIS terrorists, something that could put Saeed’s life in even greater danger. Newly named U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, Rabbi David Saperstein has also been working diligently toward Saeed’s freedom alongside the ACLJ.
But is Naghmeh right? How important is religious freedom to the Obama administration? In a land where religious refugees came to make their new home, and build a new nation, far away from persecution, things like Christmas trees, nativity scenes, and even Halloween are under attack. But Ramadan dinners and the celebration of other Muslim holidays in the White House, and in public schools around the country seem to be OK. Why aren’t all religious holidays and customs being celebrated? Why is Christianity suddenly discriminatory? Why are this president and this administration so afraid of offending Muslims that they will deny Christians and other denominations their religious customs? Is pitting one religion against another really the top priority for the Obama administration while Saeed Abedini, an American citizen, languishes in prison?
Many who are working on Saeed’s case hope that his immediate release will be a condition of any nuclear talks with Iran. While U.S. diplomacy goes on in the political arena, Naghmeh wonders what kind of message does allowing American citizens to sit in foreign prisons sends to the rest of the world? Does it tell rogue nations like Iran that it is open season on Americans abroad? It certainly seems to say that the U.S. is willing to tolerate this treatment of its citizens in foreign countries.
The efforts to free Saeed Abedini continue. The ACLJ says that they are encouraged by the last few months of negotiations. Religious freedom is a founding American principle. Perhaps the Obama administration needs to be reminded that it applies to all.