A growing number of U.S. analysts, human-rights activists and even a congressman, angered by the nuclear deal reached with Iran without demanding the release of American pastor Saeed Abedini jailed since September 2012, now believe President Obama neglected the prisoner for one reason – he's a Christian.
One of those experts is William Murray, president of the Religious Freedom Coalition, who told WND the Obama administration doesn't see religion the same way a Christian would. And that's why the administration's actions regarding pastor Saeed Abedini, who has been imprisoned in Iran for more than a year for being a Christian, are what they are.
"He sees religion as a 'tradition,' as in the way Joe Biden says he's from a Catholic tradition," Murray said. "Obama, like most secularists, cannot understand religion affecting the lives of those that believe outside the setting of a church, hence his reference to freedom of worship that he confuses with freedom of religion."
He said it's the same reason Obama opposes religious influences in the military.
"This is also the core reason for making our professional army a godless one," Murray explained. "He simply does not understand that God has a greater effect on the lives of believers than government. Like all other secularists, he sees government as God."
Abedini's wife, Nagmeh, said while she's not sure of the Obama administration's intent, it's clear that religious liberty is not a priority of this administration.
"The problem I have with the administration is that they are not putting religious liberty and fundamental human rights issues as priority and [are] therefore sending a dangerous message to Iran and the Middle East on where they stand regarding human rights issues. Their silence is speaking volumes," she said.
Former PLO and Muslim Brotherhood operative turned religious liberty activist Walid Shoebat said the Obama administration has indeed sent signals that Christian persecution is not at the top of its priority list.
"To President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry, securing an agreement with Iran over the nuclear issue was more important than human rights issues, including the release of pastor Saeed Abedini," Shoebat said.
He said evidence of Obama's policy priorities are seen in his other foreign policy actions.
"As to the other question, it is a fact: Obama had at one point in time prevented Salva Kiir, the Christian president of South Sudan, from aiding rebels who wanted to topple Omar al-Bashir's regime in Sudan. Their aim was to replace the killing machine regime which killed millions of Christians with a secular government," Shoebat said.
Shoebat added that Obama's aid for the Syrian rebels is another piece of the puzzle.
"The support of the rebels in Syria, and the condemnation of [Syrian President Bashar al-]Assad (under whom Christians in Syria live securely) by the Obama administration can only make one question as to why he is against this particular regime, but not that of Omar al-Bashir, the tyrant who has been responsible for the deaths of millions through the jihad that he has commenced against Christians and the non-Arab Muslims of Darfur," Shoebat said.
Murray noted that once Obama's philosophy is understood, his actions regarding Abedini are clearer.
"Obama cannot understand why anyone would go to Iran and not obey the laws of that nation, not to evangelize. He sees the arrest as the fault of the pastor, not as a violation of religious freedom – the concept [of] which he has no understanding," Murray said.
"The thought never occurred to him or any single member of his Cabinet, such as Kerry, to bring up the situation of the pastor. It is less a war on religion [than] the secularist view that religion is a non-issue outside of the church building itself," Murray said.
"Thus the attacks on businessmen who want to practice their faith in their daily affairs. To a secularist, this is ridiculous because religion is something for only inside the four walls of the church," Murray said.
"Obama has stopped a revolution against the Hitler of Africa, Omar al-Bashir, who has been responsible for the death of millions of Christians while his brother, Malik Obama, remains as the executive secretary for the Islamic Dawa Organization (IDO), which is stationed in Khartoum, Sudan, and which has its primary focus in expanding Wahhabist Islam in the African subcontinent," Shoebat said.
Shoebat believes the lack of emphasis on Abedini is likely because of the president's personal religious convictions.
"What we can say is that Obama has always been sympathetic to Islam, and his conversion to Christian orthodoxy is questionable especially since it took place at Jeremiah Wright's church, a church that is hardly known for its orthodoxy," Shoebat said.
"This leaves us pondering, did Obama really convert from his previous faith? From all his policies and actions, it doesn't seem so. Is he still Muslim? This is the taboo question that gains anyone who asks it a dreaded label of Islamophobia," Shoebat said.
"While Obama's connection to his Muslim family in Kenya is an acceptable topic for discussion in the Arab world, it is viewed as a 'great taboo' in the United States," Shoebat said.
"But why is that so? This 'taboo' should be considered unfair at best, purely prejudiced at worst. Is it fair that we censor such discussions just because Obama's relatives are 'Muslim'? The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) should condemn the media for keeping a tight lid on the subject," Shoebat said.
"Isn't it time to go beyond what is disclosed by President Obama in his 'Dreams from My Father' or Wikipedia's limited information, which includes the only photo released by the Obama family? It becomes evident that President Obama still keeps close links with his Muslim family," Shoebat said.
A State Department official who spoke on condition of anonymity said the Obama administration is not abandoning the American pastor.
"We continue to have serious concerns about the fate of Saeed Abedini, a dual national U.S.-Iranian. Mr. Abedini has been sentenced to eight years in prison in Iran on charges related to his religious beliefs," the official said.
That official maintains his department has been consistent in this effort.
"As we noted previously, President Obama raised Mr. Abedini's case in his Sept. 27 phone call with President Rouhani, and we continue to urge the Iranian government to release Mr. Abedini so that he may be reunited with his family.
"We have been repeatedly clear that we are calling on Iran to release all detained U.S. citizens in Iran. We will continue our efforts until all return home," the official said.
WND reported recently that White House National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said the White House has not forgotten the American pastor.
"We continue to have serious concerns about the fate of Saeed Abedini. Mr Abedini has been sentenced to eight years in prison in Iran on charges related to his religious beliefs," Meehan said.
Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., however, said religious liberty and human rights were a low priority from the beginning. Smith told WND in an interview that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made that point in her first visit to China.
"There's been a lack of concern for Christians, and there's been a pattern. Mrs. Clinton on her first visit to China said, 'I'm not going to let human rights interfere,' her words, 'with climate change and other issues,' and I find that appalling," Smith said.
"That told every dissident, religious, or pro-democracy advocates ... we just demoted human rights in a very serious way," Smith said.
The House Joint Subcommittee on the Middle East and Human Rights recently heard testimony on Saeed Abedini's case. He first was held in Tehran's lethal Evin Prison and later was transferred to an even worse location – the 22,000-inmate Rajai Shahr, home to drug dealers, murderers and rapists.
He was working in Iran under a government-approved building plan when he was arrested in 2012.
The American Center for Law and Justice has been working on behalf of Abedini, and Executive Director Jordan Sekulow said U.S. officials first said they had no relationship with Iran so they couldn't do anything.
But he said now the U.S. relationship with Iran has changed and that the U. S. is talking to Iranians.
But still, Sekulow said, the answers aren't lining up.
"Mrs. Abedini was told by the State Department that the State Department couldn't really do anything. Then one administration official says that Pastor Abedini's case is being raised on the fringes. Then Secretary of State John Kerry said at the hearing on Tuesday that Pastor Abedini was not a part of the negotiations because mentioning him might be dangerous," Sekulow said.
"The State Department said his case was being raised, then they said it wasn't. One official said it was, one said no. We don't know which one to believe," Sekulow said.
He warned the pastor is in real danger.
"Rajai Shahr is where the real criminals are. Drug dealers, murderers, rapists. It's also overcrowded, housing 22,000 prisoners. To say that it's inhumane is a gross understatement.
"Then to see that the pastor does not have backing of his own government. The State Department excused the lack of emphasis because we had no diplomatic relations. Now the two sides have talked; they can't say that anymore," Sekulow said.