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Stairway to Heaven: State Reports on Religious Freedom

ICC Note

Christians are persecuted from Iran to China . The United States Government has established institutions to alleviate the persecution of Christians and others. This article describes how the United States Government is working to promote freedom of religion.

By Cheryl Wetzstein

08/10/2008 Iran (The Washington Times)-Comment Iranian police tortured a Christian couple in East Tehran for holding Bible studies and attending a house church.

The secret police spirited away Makan Arya, 31, and his wife, Tina Rad, 28, on June 3, leaving their daughter, Odzhan, 4, unattended. They were held incommunicado for four days, released on $50,000 bail and told if they returned to their church or had contact with Christians in any way, they would lose custody of their daughter and “be punished by the law of Islam.”

The punishment is death for people who convert from Islam to Christianity, which this couple had done three months before. Above the story in Word magazine was a photo of a normal-looking couple; he a pudgy guy wearing wire-rimmed glasses and she with her hair pulled back in a chignon, holding a little girl wearing a white sweater.

It was for people like these that the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) — one of the brightest lights of the Clinton administration — was passed by Congress in 1998. The act set up a religious freedom office in the U.S. State Department headed by an ambassador at large, mandated a yearly report on international religious freedom, spotlighted the world’s worst violators of religious freedom (Iran is always on this list), and set up the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) to think through how U.S. foreign policy can advance religious freedom.

Sanctions don’t work with countries such as Burma , Iran , China and the Sudan , he said, but what does help is behind-the-scenes talks with such countries on why religious freedom is in their best national interest. Coaxed by private get-togethers featuring boating, fishing and golf games at Mr. Seiple’s Eastern Shore home, the Laotians began releasing incarcerated Christians.

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