“[He is] suffering just because of his Christian faith, and a lot of countries have spoken out. I just came back from Geneva at the Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy and so a lot of countries are saying this is not right.
“I believe if our government is serious about this, then we should be seeing results. I’m hoping … that our government will pursue every avenue to bring him home quickly and he doesn’t have to stay there another year or even another month.”
Abedini, a former Muslim who converted to Christianity in 2000, met and married his wife Naghmeh, an American citizen, two years later.
He is serving eight years in prison, accused of undermining Iranian national security with his Christian evangelical activities.
“The American people, whether they know it or not, are mired in a silent war,” said Jindal, who is widely expected to run for president in 2016.
“It’s a war against the propositions in the Declaration of Independence: It is a war against the spirit that motivated abolitionism: It is a war against the faith that motivated the Civil Rights struggle: It is a war against the soul of countless acts of charity: It is a war against the conscience that drives social change: It is a war against the heart that binds our neighborhoods together: It is a war against America’s best self, at America’s best moment.
“It is a war — a silent war — against religious liberty.”
“This war is waged in our courts and in the halls of political power. It is pursued with grim and relentless determination by a group of like-minded elites, determined to transform the country from a land sustained by faith into a land where faith is silenced, privatized and circumscribed.”
Jindal, 42, is expected to be among a group of Republicans seeking the presidential nomination in 2016, and many see his speech at the library in Simi Valley, Calif., as part of the groundwork for such a run.
He follows other likely GOP contenders Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey.
Jindal released the text of his speech before delivery. He said there was no better place than the Reagan Library to make his point because Reagan had said “Freedom is not the sole prerogative of a chosen few, but the universal right of all God’s children.”
“When he said this, he was not expressing a strictly personal belief in the nature of man as a created being, as a child of God” said Jindal. “He was reaffirming the most basic contention of the American founding, set forth in the Declaration of Independence, that we are a nation constituted in accordance with the ‘Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God,’ and that we are a people ‘endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights.'”
Jindal reminded his audience that as far back as 1798, President John Adams had written to Massachusetts militiamen telling them, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
But he claimed that the “secular elites” understood that to take over America they must make war on its philosophy.
“This silent war is the real undercurrent driving politically fractious debates in a number of areas of policy,” he said. “But why is this war happening? What does it mean for the country and people of faith? Why does it represent such a fundamental challenge to our American identity and the exceptional history that makes our nation great?”
In answering his own questions, Jindal pointed to the court battle over craft store Hobby Lobby’s contention it should not have to provide the morning-after pill. The Green family that owns the stores believes the pill causes an abortion, and they object to its use on religious grounds.
He said Hobby Lobby’s statement of purpose begins with a Bible verse, and that all of the stores close on Sundays. The company pays well above minimum wage and has increased salaries four years in a row. The family that runs it is committed to giving the majority of its wealth to philanthropy.
“None of this matters to the Obama administration,” he blasted. “The argument they have advanced, successfully thus far, is that a faithful business owner cannot operate under the assumption that they can use their moral principles to guide the way their place of business spends money.
“According to the administration’s legal arguments, the family that owns Hobby Lobby is not protected by the First Amendment’s ‘free exercise’ of religion clause.”
He pointed out the absurdity that Hobby Lobby — which has an offshoot company that sells Bibles — is considered a secular company, but Tyndal House, which prints Bibles, is not.
“Perhaps we should all start printing Bibles, so we can claim protection,” he said.
And he said he defended “Duck Dynasty” star Phil Robertson and his family over Robertson’s controversial statements on homosexuality, not because Jindal is the governor of the state where the Robertsons live, but because “they have every right to speak their minds, however indelicately they may choose to do so.”
Jindal also raised the Hosanna-Tabor case in which the Obama administration argued that a Lutheran academy did not have the right to fire someone over a difference in beliefs. The Supreme Court unanimously threw out the government’s argument.
“So for the time being at least, the government doesn’t get to decide who can preach the gospel. But the important thing to note is that the government wanted to make that decision — that is truly offensive and frightening.”
He also brought up cases where bakers, photographers and others in the wedding industry have been told they must cater to same-sex unions.
“This assault will only spread in the immediate future,” Jindal said, foreseeing a time when believers who refuse to be cowed will be penalized for their views, denied membership in professional groups or even rejected from licenses.
“This is the next stage of the assault,” he said. “And it is only beginning.
Jindal was speaking the day after a legal challenge was filed to get Louisiana’s ban on same-sex marriage overturned.
“Today, an overwhelming majority of those who belong to a religious denomination in America — that’s more than half the country — are members of organizations that affirm the traditional definition of marriage,” he said. “All of those denominations will be targeted in large and small degrees in the coming years,” he predicted.
Jindal ended his speech by referring to President Obama’s speech at the National Prayer Breakfast, in which he said that history shows “that nations that uphold the rights of their people — including the freedom of religion — are ultimately more just and more peaceful and more successful.”
“Well said, Mr. President. I couldn’t agree more,” said Jindal. “The president is very concerned about religious liberty.
“And also… if you like your religion, you can keep your religion.”
Government restrictions on religion and social hostilities involving religion are on the rise around the world, a new study from the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life disclosed.
Social hostilities include “abuse of religious minorities by private individuals or groups in society for acts perceived as offensive or threatening to the majority faith of the country,” according to Pew.
Social hostilities in a third of the 198 countries or territories surveyed were viewed as high or very high, with acts of religious violence rising everywhere in the world except the Americas, Pew noted in its study, which covered the six years from 2007 to 2012.
“We monitor this in two ways that religious freedom is restricted — actions of government and actions of individual groups of society,” the study’s lead author Brian Grim told Newsmax. “We’ve seen a steady climb overall. It’s a global phenomenon.
“There’s an association between social hostilities and government restrictions. As one goes up, the other goes up. And that may be part of what is going on,” said Grim, president of the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation in Annapolis, Md.
Among the Pew study’s key findings:
• The number of countries with religion-related terrorist violence has doubled over the past six years.
• Women were harassed because of religious dress in nearly a third of countries in 2012 (32 percent), up from 25 percent in 2011 and 7 percent in 2007.
• The Middle East and North Africa were the most common regions for sectarian violence, with half of all countries in the regions seeing conflicts in 2012.
• China, for the first time in the study, experienced a high level of social hostilities involving religion, with multiple types reported during 2012, including religion-related terrorism, harassment of women for religious dress, and mob violence.
• The number of countries with a very high level of religious hostilities increased from 14 in 2011 to 20 in 2012. Six countries — Syria, Lebanon, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Thailand, and Myanmar (Burma) — had very high levels of religious hostilities in 2012 but not in 2011.
Raymond Ibrahim, a religious scholar and author who studies hostilities against Christians, said persecution of Christian minorities was rising across the Islamic world, as well as in North Korea and to a smaller extent in India and China.
Ibrahim said the U.S. culture’s embrace of tolerance makes it different from other places where religious traditions tend to discount other faiths as false.
“I think the historical position on religions is about truth. If I have the truth, you don’t. I don’t want your falsehoods to get out in the open. We in the West don’t appreciate this kind of logic and we take for granted the idea of religious tolerance,” Ibrahim said.
The difference between the United States and other countries around the world is that America has “many mechanisms to address religious freedom problems as they come up,” Grim noted, citing the Department of Justice’s special branch dedicated to reviewing discriminatory issues related to religious dress as well as land use problems involving churches and mosques.
In current hot zones of violence, like the Central African Republic and Nigeria, and across sub-Saharan Africa, “there’s a real trend toward major fighting and religious violence along this Christian-Muslim line,” said Eric Rassbach, deputy general counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty
In Nigeria, “you have a largely Muslim north and a largely Christian south and extremist groups stoking tensions between the two and carrying out acts of violence,” Rassbach told Newsmax.
“I think what happens is those conflicts aren’t just limited to their own countries. What you are seeing is they end up resulting in inter-religious disagreements in other countries,” Rassbach said.
Ethnic and economic conflicts are also tied up in regional disputes, and those add to the mix of religious differences, he said.
“In other parts of the world, it tends to be government-driven, especially in more authoritarian governments. You tend to see a crackdown, so to speak,” noting the crackdown on Christian house churches in China.
In Pakistan, “the government doesn’t officially target religious groups, but the way it runs itself, it ends up essentially green-lighting inter-religious violence by individuals who can often act with impunity,” Rassbach said.
In the Middle East, “the Arab Spring has intensified a lot of previously quieter disputes,” many of which have spilled over to other countries within the region as governments have been destabilized. “I think, anecdotally, you can tell that the violence and resentment is going up. But I think it’s for different reasons in different places,” he said.
There also has been some hostility toward religion in the United States, Rassbach added. “I think a lot of it has been stoked by the government,” including “issues like the contraceptive mandate that we are litigating.”
“It used to be that everybody agreed that religious liberty was a good thing. Now you are starting to see people here opposed to religious liberty.
“I think it’s because of the politicization,” he said. “Some political actors have seen it as useful to pick fights with religious groups. That ends up stoking religious tensions.”
Many people including 2 policemen were feared killed as gunmen suspected to be Boko Haram members attacked a church in Chakawa village of Madagali Local Government area of Adamawa.Some residents of the affected village who fled the area told newsmen that they were attacked by gunmen suspected to be Boko Haram members during Sunday service in the morning.” They used explosives during the attack on worshippers and many people lost their lives”, local villagers recounted their ordeals.” I can not actually say how many people were kill but I learnt that there are about 16 people evacuated from the church”, one of the residents who identified himself as Apogu said.Another resident claimed that some houses were also attacked by the gunmen who took some men as hostage, while two policemen, an Inspector and a Sergeant who were on guard in the church were killed instantly.” I saw some people crying saying that their relations had been taken away as hostage by the gunmen”, the resident who prefer anonymity said.Attempt to get the military and police authorities in the area to comment on the incident did not yield result.A soldier in the area who spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to the press told Vanguard that nine people lost their lives during the attack.He said the Army have sealed up the area and were hunting for the fleeing attackers.Military authorities in Adamawa State have promised to speak on the issue later, even as the chairman of Madagali Local Government, Maina Ularamu confimed the attack, but declined the civilian casualties.Madagali Local Government is bordering Gwoza Local Govenment of Borno state known for series of insurgent attacks since the declaration of the state of emergency.
Coptic Christians in Upper Egypt continue to be targeted for kidnapping and extortion on a weekly basis. The most recent case occurred on Tuesday morning, when masked men abducted 52-year-old Nady Farag Massad at gunpoint in the governorate of Minya.
According to local sources, Massad was purchasing bread for his family at a local bakery when the gunmen forced him into their vehicle and fled the scene. Two days later, Massad’s kidnappers have yet to contact anyone demanding a ransom.
Massad’s kidnapping is only the latest in a string of abductions targeting Coptic Christians in Upper Egypt over the past year. According to Ezzat Ibrahim, the director of the World Center for Human Rights in Minya and Asyut, there have been dozens of cases.
“In the year 2013, 69 Christians were abducted in Minya governorate,” Ibrahim told International Christian Concern (ICC). “Four of them were killed because their families were unable to pay the kidnappers that demanded ransoms, four of them were returned by the police, and 61 Christians were returned after their families paid a ransom ranging from 50,000 Egyptian pounds ($7,000) to several million Egyptian pounds.”
Families unable to meet demands of the kidnappers must rely on police to find their missing loved ones. In a recent interview, Aziz Narrows, the father of Abanoub Narrows, a 14-year-old kidnapped last November, relayed his experience to ICC.
“My son was taking a private lesson from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. with his schoolmates in the home of their teacher, which is very close to our home,” he said. “It was 9:30 p.m. and Abanoub hadn’t returned, so I went out to look for him.”
After searching unsuccessfully for his son for several hours, Aziz informed the police that his son was missing.
“They asked me to wait until the morning because maybe Abanoub went to one of his relatives, so I returned to my home,” he said.
A little after 9:30 the next morning, Abanoub’s father received the first of what would be nearly 40 text messages from his son’s kidnappers.
“I went immediately to the police station in Dairut and told them about the kidnappers’ message, and also I sent a telegraph to the Asyut governor and to the interior minister, but no one could help me,” he said.
On Nov. 27, nine days after his kidnapping, 14-year-old Abanoub Aziz Narrows’ body was found in a canal near the city of Dairut.
“His hands and legs were tied, and there was a rope around his neck, and there were effects of torture on his body,” Aziz said. “The main reason of killing my son was the indifference and weakness of the police; they were unable to help us.”
Ryan Morgan, a regional manager for International Christian Concern, says, “The ongoing forceful abduction of Coptic Christians in Upper Egypt must come to an end. The kidnapping of members of this ancient faith community has become a horrendous fundraising mechanism for radical Islamist groups to promote their own agenda.
“We call on the governorates of Minya and Asyut to immediately step up their protection of Coptic Christian communities and to pursue the perpetrators of these kidnappings aggressively and with every means at their disposal. Unless more is done soon, it is unlikely that we are going to see the end to the weekly kidnappings, the extortion and the murder of Coptic Christians in Upper Egypt.”
“In arguments filed late Friday, Justice Department lawyers told the court that an employer’s religious beliefs aren’t a legitimate reason to deny something as important as preventive care to an employee who is entitled to it under the health law.
“ ‘The connection is too indirect as a matter of law to impose a substantial burden’ on employers’ right to practice their religion, the lawyers wrote in their opening argument defending the contraceptive requirement against Hobby Lobby Stores Inc.”
The crux of the Obama administration’s legal argument seems to boil down to two points:
1) Opposing forced coverage of abortion pills isn’t a legitimate religious belief; and 2) our pro-abortion agenda is far more important than your silly religious beliefs anyway.
If that sounds like an argument to turn the religious liberty protections of our Constitution on its head, that’s because it is. The moment the government can tell us what is and is not an important part of our faith and further that what we consider to be a sin is far too attenuated to actually be real sin in God’s eyes is the moment we have lost our religious liberty.
This argument comes days after Obama’s DOJ attempted to convince the court that forcing Catholic nuns to pay for abortion pills in no way violated their faith because all they had to do was sign a form and let someone else violate their faith for them.
The absurdity of these arguments is astounding. There is no stronger principle upon which our nation was founded than religious freedom. If the government can say my religious beliefs don’t count, then what religious liberty can we possibly have?
The Supreme Court is set to consider this exact question later this year. At the ACLJ, we are preparing to file a brief on behalf of thousands of concerned Americans and our clients (each of which we have put a stop to the mandate for as their cases continue). Join the fight by signing on to our amicus brief today.
Matthew Clark is associate counsel for government affairs and media advocacy with the ACLJ. A lifelong citizen of the Commonwealth of Virginia, he lives with his wife and three boys in Northern Virginia. Follow Matthew Clark on Twitter at @_MatthewClark.This article is crossposted on Red State.
Nearly twice as many Christians died for their faith in the past year than in 2012, according to Open Doors International’s 2014 World Watch List.
Open Doors International, a charity that supports Christians under pressure for their faith, said 2,123 Christians were reported to have been killed during the 12 months ending Oct. 31. That compares to 1,201 during the previous 12 months. During the most recent period, more Christians were killed in Syria alone than were killed globally in the previous year.
The World Watch List, which annually monitors the media worldwide for all reported incidents, emphasizes that this is the “very, very minimum” count—only those who have been documented as killed.
Estimates of the total number killed range from around 7,000 or 8,000, according to the International Institute for Religious Freedom’s Thomas Schirrmacher, to the lofty 100,000 estimate of the Center for the Study of Global Christianity.
Beyond those killed, the World Watch List recommends that three more categories of Christians should be considered: Christians whose death is never reported; Christians killed due to increased vulnerability, such as those in conflict areas; and Christians who die due to long-term discrimination.
Taking these into account, as well as those whose deaths are reported by the media, the World Watch List suggests Schirrmacher’s estimation is roughly accurate, although the figure may be higher still.
“Christians aren’t always directly killed, but are so much squeezed with regulations and vulnerabilities that they just perish—not at once, but in the course of years. If we would include them in the counting, it would be an enormous number of people. However, the precise number of Christians who die due to these factors is very difficult to quantify,” according to the World Watch List.
Not surprisingly, Syria heads the list of the countries in which the most Christians were killed for their faith (1,213), followed by Nigeria (612), Pakistan (88) and Egypt (83).
Of the top 10, six are in Africa—with Kenya (20), Angola (16), Niger (15) and the Central African Republic (nine) joining Nigeria and Egypt on the list.
The World Watch List states that the number of Christians killed in the Central African Republic is especially likely to have been under-reported because “most analysts still failed to recognize the religious dimension of the conflict.” The list says the same is true of North Korea, where “it is extremely difficult to get public information.”
Beyond the number of Christians killed, the World Watch List focuses upon other instances of violence, including: physical aggression; threats; the destruction of churches or other Christian buildings; attempts to destroy churches or Christian buildings; the closure of churches or Christian buildings; house expulsion or destruction; kidnap for ransom or intimidation; sexual assault; arrests; and displacement.
Considering only the sum of violent incidents recorded, Egypt (167) tops the list, followed by India (125) and Nigeria (118).
Alliance Defending Freedom has filed an appeal on behalf of a Lakewood, Colo., cake artist who declined to use his creative talents to promote and endorse a same-sex wedding ceremony. In December, the Colorado Administrative Law Court ruled that the cake artist, Jack Phillips, must create cakes for same-sex wedding ceremonies and then prove he has complied with the coerced speech order.
“America was founded on the fundamental freedom of all citizens to live and work without fear of government punishment,” says lead counsel Nicolle Martin, one of nearly 2,300 attorneys allied with Alliance Defending Freedom. “Jack simply exercised the long-cherished freedom to not speak by declining to promote a false view of marriage through his creative work. It’s outrageous that the government would turn its guns on Jack and threaten him with a potential jail sentence unless he says and does what the government demands.”
In July 2012, Charlie Craig and David Mullins asked Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, to make a wedding cake to celebrate their same-sex ceremony. In an exchange lasting about 30 seconds, Phillips politely declined, explaining that he would gladly make them any other type of baked item they wanted but that he could not make a cake promoting a same-sex ceremony because of his faith. Craig and Mullins, now represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, immediately left the shop and later filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Division.
Alliance Defending Freedom’s summary judgment brief filed in the case explains that “the government and complainants seek to impose a new belief system upon Jack, one that is fundamentally at odds with his conscience and his liberty. Complainants and the government want this Court to order Jack Phillips to cease and desist from holding views about marriage that they disagree with, and conform his conscience to their definition of marriage.”
Moreover, it states, “The government is unconstitutionally attempting to force Jack to violate his sincerely held religious beliefs and to compel him to speak a message that is contrary to his actual beliefs.”
“Every artist must be free to create work that expresses what he or she believes and not be forced to express contrary views,” adds senior counsel Kristen Waggoner. “Forcing Americans to promote ideas against their will undermines our constitutionally protected freedom of expression and our right to live free. If the government can take away our First Amendment freedoms, there is nothing it can’t take away.”
American pastor Saeed Abedini remains imprisoned in Iran’s deadliest prison. Another year begins with Pastor Saeed separated from his wife, his kids and his country, suffering in chains for the gospel.
With a new year comes a renewed resolve to obtain this persecuted pastor’s freedom. Abandoned by his country, not the American people but the Obama administration, it is incumbent upon each one of us to fight for his freedom.
Our offices around the world, from here in the U.S. to Europe and Brazil, continue to press forward with a number of efforts to secure his freedom.
Pastor Saeed—a U.S. citizen—must not be allowed to endure another year in the brutal conditions of an Iranian prison. He has done nothing wrong; his only “crime” is his faith in Christ
Pastor Saeed’s family in Iran was unable to visit him over the holidays, and it is uncertain when the next opportunity will come. It has been four weeks since family members visited him. And since his transfer to Rajai Shahr Prison in November, visitations are much less frequent and more uncertain than when he was confined in Evin Prison.
Even through the Christmas and New Year holidays, we have been working nonstop on behalf of Pastor Saeed, fighting for his release.
It is crucial that we not allow Iran to make Pastor Saeed disappear.
In fact, Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, sent out a tweet around Christmas, claiming to wish all Iranian Christians a Merry Christmas, even while his regime imprisons and tortures Christians like Pastor Saeed.
We immediately responded. It is tactics like this that the regime constantly uses in an attempt to deflect public pressure away from the realities of its abominable human rights record.
Once again, President Rouhani’s words do not match his actions. His statement wishing Christians health, success and happiness in the new year is nothing more than his continued push to redefine his radical regime in an effort to make it appear more moderate on the world stage. By continuing to hold American pastor Saeed Abedini in prison for more than a year simply because of his Christian faith, Iran continues to show its blatant disregard for religious freedom and human rights.
Pastor Saeed’s health continues to deteriorate, and his captors refuse to provide him with prescribed medication. If President Rouhani is sincere about his wish for Christians—his wish for health, success and happiness—he would release Pastor Saeed immediately so he could be reunited with his wife and children without delay.
Until that happens—until Pastor Saeed is safely in the arms of his loving family here in the U.S.—we will not let up. We will not relent in exercising every available channel and opportunity, here in the U.S. and globally, to bring Pastor Saeed home. And we urge the White House and the State Department to fully engage this issue. Every innocent American deserves the full support of their government, especially those who suffer for their faith.
We will continue to share updates about Pastor Saeed’s case and how you can be involved in the fight for his freedom at BeHeardProject.com. Please continue to share his story and pray that this year, 2014, would be the year Pastor Saeed comes home.
“Duck Dynasty” star Willie Robertson will talk about his outspoken father as he helps Fox News Channel ring in the new year.
The network says Robertson and wife, Korie, will be guests on the “All-American New Year” special Fox News is airing Tuesday night.
The couple will appear live from Steamboat Springs, Colo., to discuss the recent brief suspension of “Duck Dynasty” patriarch Phil Robertson from the hit A&E reality series. His nine-day removal resulted from anti-gay comments Robertson made in GQ magazine. A firestorm was set off among his legions of defenders who felt he was being censored by the network.