An Iranian-American pastor released by Iran last weekend is expected back in the U.S. after more than three years in prison there. Saeed Abedini, who since has been at a U.S. military hospital in Germany, is scheduled to arrive on American soil Jan. 21 evening, according to a Facebook post made Jan. 20 by his wife, Naghmeh Abedini. She described him in “very good condition.”
Saeed Abedini, a pastor jailed in Iran since 2012 for allegedly trying to set up house churches, was one of four Iranian-Americans freed on Saturday in a prisoner deal with the U.S. linked to the nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers.
Southern Baptists prayed Wednesday that the Supreme Court would rule in favor of the Green family, the evangelical owners of the Hobby Lobby craft chain that challenged the contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act.
Historians said the prayer from the podium during the SBC’s annual meeting about a pending court decision was noteworthy, though Southern Baptists have preached and issued statements for years on current events.
“I think it’s unusual for it to happen at a convention event,” said Bill Sumners, director of the Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives.
Facing criticism that he does not give religious freedom enough attention, President Obama devoted most of his National Prayer Breakfast address to the issue, naming people imprisoned for their beliefs and calling out specific nations.
“We believe that each of us is ‘wonderfully made’ in the image of God,” Obama said. “We therefore believe in the inherent dignity of every human being — dignity that no earthly power can take away. And central to that dignity is freedom of religion.”
Promoting religious freedom is a key objective of U.S. foreign policy, Obama said. He said he is looking to fill the religious freedom ambassador position, one that Suzan Johnson Cook left last fall.
Secretary of State John Kerry is calling for the release of an Iranian-American minister from a Tehran prison, a welcome step for advocates who had accused the State Department of being “AWOL” on the case.
“I am deeply concerned about the fate of U.S citizen Saeed Abedini, who has been detained for nearly six months and was sentenced to eight years in prison in Iran on charges related to his religious beliefs,” Kerry said in a statement released on March 22.
“I am disturbed by reports that Mr. Abedini has suffered physical and psychological abuse in prison, and that his condition has become increasingly dire.”
Religious freedom activists scolded the U.S. State Department for not appearing at a hearing Friday on Iran’s treatment of religious minorities, and called for greater government action to secure the release of people imprisoned there for their faith.
“The State Department is AWOL — they are absent without leave,” complained Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, a conservative law firm that represents the wife of Saeed Abedini, an Iranian-American minister in Tehran’s Evin prison. “They act as if they are embarrassed about Mr. Abedini’s faith.”