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The United Kingdom’s Telegraph noted how Catholicism has spread its wings by appointing Pope Francis I as its first non-European pope since 741 AD. Yet countries like Iran are still clamping down on religion by incarcerating Christians and putting them on trial for their faith.

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 Revolutionary Court “on charges of disturbing public order, evangelizing, threatening national security and engaging in Internet activity that threatens the government.”

Tiffany Barrans, international legal director at the American Center for Law and Justice, explained to Fox News, “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 2012, when he was arrested while helping to build a state-run secular orphanage. He is serving an eight-year prison term, which is why the ACLJ is now 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 other 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.

Pakistan’s International News 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.”

Compare those laws to the U.S. First Amendment: “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 not only intended to secure the fundamental rights and freedoms of religion and free speech for every American but also to make a statement to the whole world about the model they should follow.

That is why James Madison, the principal drafter and so-called “Father of the Bill of Rights,” explained the original intent of the First Amendment to Edward Livingstone: “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 they finished drafting the First Amendment, then-President George Washington echoed similar universal and obligatory sentiment even 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” (italics added).

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 believe as founder Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and a member of the presidential administrations of Adams, Jefferson and Madison, said: “I had rather see the opinions of Confucius or Mohammed 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.”

On the eve of Easter and Holy Week, the time when Christians around the world commemorate the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, 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 Apostolic 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.”

Can you imagine that simple profession could get you or us arrested in Iran or our houses burnt 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 our Bill of Rights, and challenge them to follow suit by allowing all people everywhere 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 during Holy Week I’ll convey roughly two dozen examples of how that has happened in just the past two years, and what you can do to fight against those unconstitutional tides.

For more information on how faith is persecuted around the world, read the information and click any country on the global map at the Voice of the Martyrs website.

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