In the history of the United States, the protection of a citizen’s right to religious liberty holds a unique place. As President George Bush remarked recently, when America’s founders adopted the Bill of Rights in 1791, the very first liberty they enshrined was freedom of religion:
“They recognized that the most basic freedom a man can have is the right to worship his own God as he sees fit. Today we are blessed to live in a country where that freedom is respected.”
In too many countries, said Mr. Bush, those seeking religious freedom continue to be silenced by tyranny, intolerance and oppression. One of those countries is Iran, where, he said, “the regime’s anti-Semitism has provoked global outrage.” The U.S. State Department’s latest annual report on religious freedom notes that the Iranian regime’s anti-Israel policies, as well as its anti-Semitic rhetoric, has contributed to a hostile atmosphere for Jews in Iran, and, the report said, to “increased concerns about the future security” of Iran’s Jewish community.
Others in Iran also suffer cruelly because of their religious beliefs. Seven prominent members of Iran’s Baha’i community were arrested this spring and have been held for months in Evin prison, with no formal charges and no access to lawyers. Six Nobel Peace Prize winners, including Iranian human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi, recently issued a statement registering their “deepest concern” at the mounting threats and persecution of the Iranian Baha’i community, and called for the immediate release of those detained.
The Iranian regime is also arresting Iranian converts to Christianity. According to Amnesty International, in recent months, five Iranian Christians -- three from the city of Shiraz and two from the Amol -- “appear to have been detained solely on account of their religious beliefs.” All are being held incommunicado and are in danger of torture.
Members of the majority Shiite Muslim community who deviate from the regime’s interpretation of Islam also face persecution. Ayatollah Mohammad Kazemeini Boroujerdi, a Shiite cleric who advocates a separation between religion and politics, was arrested along with a number of his followers in a violent confrontation with authorities in October 2006. Charged with the so-called crime of sacrilege, Ayatollah Boroujerdi, suffering from deteriorating health, remains in prison.
President George Bush calls on the leaders of Iran and all countries whose governments refuse to honor basic human rights “to immediately end their abuses of religious freedom.” Said Mr. Bush, “We urge these leaders to respect the rights of those who seek only to worship their God as they see fit.”