According to Fox News, "five men were among seven arrested in October when security forces raided an underground house church in the city of Shiraz during a prayer session." And Christian Solidarity Worldwide, a religious persecution watchdog organization, elaborated that they are being tried in Islamic Revolutionary Court on charges of "disturbing public order, evangelizing, action against national security and ... (Internet) activity against the system."
Tiffany Barrans, international legal director at the American Center for Law and Justice, explained to Fox, "House churches are growing because the converts have nowhere else to go."
Barrans and the ACLJ are also the legal defenders for Pastor Saeed Abedini, who has been held in Iran's inhumane Evin prison since September, when he was arrested for helping to build a state-run secular orphanage. He is serving an eight-year prison term, which is why the ACLJ is gathering more than a half-million signatures in an online petition seeking his release. Abedini's wife and two young children fear for his life while they anxiously await his return to their Idaho home.
In similar news, 3,000 Muslims armed with sticks, clubs and stones burned at least 150 houses of Christians, a church and shops in Pakistan over allegations that a single Christian had made critical comments about the Prophet Muhammad.
The News International reported: "The history of persecution of Christians in Pakistan is not very old. Just 15 years ago, a Christian Ayub Masih was the first to be convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to death." (Blasphemy is still punishable by life in prison or even death in Pakistan.)
Fox News further explained: "Under Shariah, or Islamic law, a Muslim who converts to Christianity is on a par with someone waging war against Islam. Death sentences for such individuals are prescribed by fatwas, or legal decrees, and reinforced by Iran's Constitution, which allows judges to rely on fatwas for determining charges and sentencing on crimes not addressed in the Iranian penal code."
Contrast those laws with Americans' First Amendment rights: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
The First Amendment was intended to not only secure the fundamental rights and freedoms of religion and free speech for every American but also make a statement to the whole world about the model everyone should follow.
James Madison, the principal drafter and so-called father of the Bill of Rights, explained the original intent of the First Amendment to Edward Livingston: "We are teaching the world the great truth that Govts. do better without Kings & Nobles than with them. The merit will be doubled by the other lesson that Religion flourishes in greater purity, without than with the aid of Govt."
It's no coincidence that in 1789, after being urged by Congress on the same day it finished drafting the First Amendment, President George Washington echoed a similar universal and obligatory sentiment in his Thanksgiving proclamation: "It is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor."
America still serves as a beacon of light for the world regarding its unique freedoms. That is why we shouldn't fear diversity or differences; rather, we should be proud of them. We must not hinder others' opinion or be intimidated by the sharing of our own. We must question everything with boldness yet be willing to agree to disagree agreeably even on the most controversial subjects.
That is why I state categorically that I agree with Benjamin Rush -- a signer of the Declaration of Independence and a member of the presidential administrations of John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Madison -- who wrote: "I had rather see the opinions of Confucius or (Muhammad) inculcated upon our youth than see them grow up wholly devoid of a system of religious principles. But the religion I mean to recommend in this place is that of the New Testament."
Right around the corner is Holy Week, the time when Christians around the world commemorate the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and my wife, Gena, and I passionately profess that we believe in Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and savior, yet we respect those who differ with us.
And in so doing, we believe in the collection of beliefs stated almost poetically in the Apostles' Creed: "I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth; and in Jesus Christ His only Son, our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary; suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and buried; he descended to the grave: the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from where he will come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit; the holy Christian church; the fellowship of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and eternal life. Amen."
Isn't it strange to imagine how that simple profession could get you arrested in Iran or your house burned down in Pakistan?
It's time to wake up and shake up the governments of the world to reconsider the power and exemplary nature of the U.S. Constitution and challenge them to follow suit by allowing all people to experience the freedoms of speech and religion.
And if you think the U.S. is immune from jarring down on our own religious rights and enforcing subsequent penalties, next week I'll convey roughly two dozen examples of how that has happened in just the past two years, and I'll let you know what you can do to fight against those unconstitutional tides.