Pastor Saeed Abedini, a U.S. citizen of Iranian descent imprisoned in Tehran, tells of the torture he has endured for his faith as well as the joy that comes with forgiving his perpetrators in a letter to his family released by the American Center for Law and Justice March 22, Baptist Press reports. The letter comes one day after a U.S. State Department official finally mentioned Abedini’s case before a global audience and called for his release. Abedini’s ordeal is happening during a period of numerous arrests of Iranian Christians, according to Morning Star News. The increase in arrests, the news service said, is likely related to the upcoming presidential elections. Christians in Iran, according to World Watch Monitor, are routinely arrested and interrogated because Iranian authorities view Christianity as a deviant anti-government movement and Christians as pawns of the West. In the letter written on scraps of newsprint, a badly beaten Abedini said he is able to endure because the joy of the Lord is his strength and he has learned to forgive those who persecute him. “I forgave the prison doctor who did not listen to me and did not give me the medication that I needed. I forgave the interrogator who beat me,” Abedini wrote. “The minute I forgave them and loved them, that second I was filled with unspeakable joy. . . . Love is as strong as death.” He described an incident when a prison guard learned he was a Christian pastor and replied, “You are unclean!” “It really broke my heart,” the pastor wrote perhaps weeks ago. “The nurse also would come to take care of us and provide us with treatment, but she said in front of others ‘in our religion we are not supposed to touch you, you are unclean.'” The doctor, Abedini said, had instructed that he not receive the pain medication that other prisoners received because he was considered unclean. When Abedini, who frequently is blindfolded, caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror of an elevator, he did not recognize himself. “My hair was shaven, under my eyes were swollen three times what they should have been, my face was swollen, and my beard had grown,” he wrote. In the letter the pastor expressed deep concern for his wife, Naghmeh, who is waiting for him with their two young children in the United States, and for his parents in Iran who have tried tirelessly to free him from prison. Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice, reported March 22 that Ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe of the U.S. State Department on Thursday called for Abedini’s release before the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland. Abedini’s “continuing harsh treatment at the hands of Iranian authorities” exemplifies the worsening plight of religious minorities in Iran, Donahoe said.

Other news:

  • A Florida college professor causing national outrage for requiring students to write “Jesus” on a piece of paper, then put it on the floor and stomp on it, turns out also to be a top official in the local Democratic Party. Although one student who refused to participate claims he was punished by being suspended from the class, Florida Atlantic University is defending the controversial assignment. The dissenting student, Ryan Rotela, told the local CBS TV affiliate that his instructor, Associate Professor Deandre Poole, told everyone in the class to write the word “Jesus” on a piece of paper in bold letters, then put it on the floor and stomp on it. Rotela, a junior from Coral Springs, said some of his classmates complied, but he refused. “Anytime you stomp on something it shows that you believe that something has no value. So if you were to stomp on the word Jesus, it says that the word has no value,” he told WPEC. A religious Mormon who attends church every Sunday, Rotela complained to school officials, but said they responded by suspending him from the class. According to Florida Atlantic University, Poole was conducting an exercise from the textbook Intercultural Communication: A Contextual Approach, 5th Edition. A synopsis of the lesson plan in question, obtained by Fox News, goes like this: “Have the students write the name JESUS in big letters on a piece of paper. Ask the students to stand up and put the paper on the floor in front of them with the name facing up. Ask the students to think about it for a moment. After a brief period of silence instruct them to step on the paper. Most will hesitate. Ask why they can’t step on the paper. Discuss the importance of symbols in culture.” Grove City College Professor Paul Kengor, author of The Communist: Frank Marshall Davis: The Untold Story of Barack Obama’s Mentor, told Fox he wasn’t surprised by the “lesson.” “These are the new secular disciples of ‘diversity’ and ‘tolerance’—empty buzzwords that make liberals and progressives feel good while they often refuse to tolerate and sometimes even assault traditional Christian and conservative beliefs,” Kengor told Fox, saying classes like the one at FAU reflect “the rising confidence and aggression of the new secularists and atheists, especially at our sick and surreal modern universities.”
  • The Thomas More Law Center, a national nonprofit public interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, Mich., announced that it has filed its fourth legal challenge to the HHS Mandate, reports This fourth case was filed on behalf of Michael Potter, chairman and president of Eden Foods and his for-profit company, Eden Foods, Inc., in the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. According to Richard Thompson, TMLC’s president and chief counsel, “The HHS Mandate is a deliberate and direct attack by the Federal Government on religious liberty. The Federal Government ignored the religious beliefs of millions of Americans who oppose abortion causing drugs and chemical contraception. In the final analysis, the HHS Mandate is a violation of fundamental constitutional principles relating to the free exercise of religion and conscience. And it must be stopped.” Michael Potter is a practicing Roman Catholic. As a Catholic, he strives to follow the teachings of his faith, which include the belief that “any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation, whether as an end or means”—including abortifacients and contraception—is wrong. The HHS Mandate coerces Potter to make a choice between violating a foremost tenet of his faith and violating the HHS mandate. If his company violates the HHS Mandate, it would face yearly fines of $196,000 plus a yearly tax penalty of over $4.5 million per tax year assessed by the IRS. Potter brought this lawsuit on his behalf and on behalf of his company because he cannot compartmentalize his faith and his business practices. Eden Foods, co-founded by Potter in the late 1960s, is the oldest natural food company in North America and the largest independent manufacturer of dry grocery organic foods. In 2009 Eden Foods was selected as the best food company in the world by the Better World Shopping Guide, which also acknowledged the company’s outstanding record in social and environmental responsibility. The company employs 128 employees.
  • They hear that their cause is lost, that demographics and the march of history have doomed their campaign to keep marriage only between a man and a woman. But the young conservatives who oppose same-sex marriage—unlike most of their generation—remain undaunted, reports The young conservatives identify themselves as part of the “pro-marriage movement” and see themselves at the beginning of a long political struggle, much like the battle over abortion. If they can begin shifting the terms of the debate away from gay rights and toward the meaning of marriage, they say, they have a chance to survive short-term defeats. “The primary challenge that our side faces right now is the intense social pressure,” said Joseph Backholm, 34, the executive director of the Family Policy Institute of Washington. “To the extent that the other side is able to frame this as a vote for gay people to be happy, it will be challenging for us.” Opponents of same-sex marriage say they realize they may lose the current fight, but they optimistically take the long view, pointing to Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court case that legalized abortion. At the time, they say, opponents of abortion were told their cause was lost, but the fight continues 40 years later. “If you take the longer view of history—I’m not talking just 15 years, I’m talking 40 years or even 100 years—I can’t help but think that the uniqueness of man-woman marriage will be adjudicated over time,” said Andrew T. Walker, 27, a policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation. Either way, they are not planning on giving up any time soon. “Even if we are doomed, and I’m totally naïve, I think it’s important that I do this work anyway,” said Mr. Teetsel of the Manhattan Declaration. “If what I believe is true is true, then I’ve got a responsibility to be on its side for as long as I can be.”
  • Some Christian groups are worried the Republican National Convention may be distancing itself from conservatives after they failed to discuss their longstanding relationship with conservative Christians in a 98-page report released Monday on retooling and expanding the Party, The Christian Post notes. The report calls for greater outreach to minority communities in light of the Republican Party’s crushing defeat at the polls in 2012. It, however, makes very little mention of outreach to conservative Christians who have been the backbone of the Republican Party since the days of Ronald Reagan, says Tim Wildmon, president of the American Family Association. “If you are going to think, if you’re somebody who is analyzing the Republican Party. . . . If you think a way to grow the Party is by distancing the Party from the very issues that finds you millions and millions of foot soldiers, then you’re nuts,” said Wildmon in an interview with The Christian Post on Thursday. “You want to be a permanent minority Party? You start making social conservatives feel unwelcome, you’ll see what a minority party really looks like,” he added.
  • An Oregon high school teacher was escorted from the building by police this week over what is believed to be related to his continued opposition to Planned Parenthood’s presence in the classroom, reports Bill Diss is a math and computer science teacher at Benson High School in Portland, and has taught at the school for 11 years. Diss has also become known in the school for his opposition to Planned Parenthood since 2007, when he first began organizing efforts during after-school hours to stop the furtherance of the abortion provider in the community. “I certainly fight Planned Parenthood, which I certainly have a right to do,” he told reporters this week following the incident. “And that was all on the outside, until [last] year when they brought Planned Parenthood [into the school].” According to reports, last year, Planned Parenthood of Columbia Williamette began promoting its Teen Outreach Program at Benson High School, where Diss is employed as a teacher. In September, two representatives from the organization showed up at Diss’s classroom as they were hoping to speak to students. However, he would not let the representatives enter and asked them to leave.
  • Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) introduced an amendment that would prevent the United States from entering into the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty in order to uphold the Second Amendment, thehillcom reports. His amendment passed on a 53-46 vote. Republicans have been critical of President Obama’s decision to consider the treaty. But the Senate also voted down an amendment that would have prevented illegal aliens from receiving taxpayer-funded health care if they are granted legal status in an immigration reform package, reports. The 43-56 vote—taken during the Senate’s so-called budget vote-o-rama Friday and the early hours of Saturday—split along party lines the “gang of eight” senators currently working on an immigration reform package. Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions, the sponsor of the amendment, said that the vote put “immigration reform in jeopardy.”
  • The Bible might be ancient, but a free, digital platform has launched the Christian text into the 21st century, reports The Digital Bible Platform is a free service that allows users access to digital recordings of the Bible in hundreds of languages. Started three years ago by Faith Comes By Hearing, a New Mexico–based recording company, the free platform can be accessed through streaming, direct downloads from the company website, podcast downloads in the iTunes store, or on mobile devices via the apps. The company also recently released the Deaf app, which features American Sign Language translations of most of the Christian Bible’s 66 books. Faith Comes By Hearing estimates that it has reached 100 million people through digital distribution alone in the three years its online platform has been available. That is in addition to the more than 50 million people the company says it has reached with earlier technologies such as cassette tapes and a solar-powered digital device nicknamed “the Proclaimer.”
  • The White House has released what it says is a map of Israel. The only problem is that Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the Golan Heights are missing, reports WorldNetDaily. An Obama administration video highlighting the president’s plans for his Mideast trip depicts Jerusalem, the Golan, and the West Bank—also known as Judea and Samaria—as non-Israeli territory. The Washington Free Beacon, which first reported the discrepancies, noted the video shows the Golan Heights as part of Syria; Jerusalem is depicted as part of the West Bank; and northern Israel is shown as part of Lebanon. WorldNetDaily reported in August 2012 when the White House refused to name the capital of Israel—not once, but twice—as the two most senior White House correspondents cornered Obama’s press secretary, doggedly questioning him on whether the Obama administration considered Jerusalem or Tel Aviv to be the capital of the Jewish state. The itinerary on the White House website further implies that Jerusalem is not Israel’s capital or even part of Israel, reported the Free Beacon. Obama’s schedule lists two stops in “Tel Aviv, Israel,” and one in “Amman, Jordan,” while his trip to Israel’s capital city is identified as taking place only in “Jerusalem.”
  • The Association of Temple Organizations, refused permission to perform its annual Passover sacrifice reenactment by the Jerusalem Veterinary Services, has submitted a legal petition to the Jerusalem District Court requesting that it instruct the Veterinary Services to issue the permit, reports The association says it has slaughtered a lamb each year since 2008 as an educational exercise to demonstrate what took place in Temple times. The groups have requested permission each year but were denied this time around following an unsuccessful exchange of letters with the Jerusalem Veterinary Services and the Agriculture Ministry. The case will be heard on Wednesday morning, with the Temple renewal groups hoping to be granted a permit in order to carry out its Passover sacrifice reenactment on Thursday afternoon at the Armon Hanatziv promenade overlooking the Old City and the Temple Mount. The Passover sacrifice was an ancient ritual performed by Jewish families for the Passover holiday during the times of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem, in commemoration of the Biblical account of the Exodus from Egypt in which the Israelites were commanded to slaughter a lamb and put its blood on their doorposts. The Association of Temple Organizations, which includes several organizations promoting Jewish rights to the Temple Mount, asserted that although a lamb is actually slaughtered, it is not a formal sacrifice, since that can be done only on the Temple Mount itself. Yehuda Glick, spokesman for the association, said the purpose of the reenactment and much of the groups’ activities was to “demystify” the Temple and show it and the rituals surrounding it as a real and tangible phenomenon.
  • Up to 20 churches have decided to no longer be under Sovereign Grace Ministries because of disputes over the leadership capabilities of the group’s president, Pastor C.J. Mahaney, and its executive board, say former and present associates. SGM is an evangelical, Reformed, and charismatic network founded in 1982 that has about 80 member churches, located mostly in the U.S. SGM also partners with pastors and church-planting networks in countries all around the world. A pastor who was at one time a close adviser to Mahaney compares the behavior by the SGM’s leadership team, including Mahaney, during the fallout due to the controversy, to that of President Nixon and his staff during the Watergate scandal of the early ’70s. “I also expect C.J., the Leadership Team, the interim Board and the current Board will all get full pardons like Nixon by those who fill their shoes,” stated Brent Detwiler, who has offered his opinion and documented what transpired at SGM in his blog over the last two years. He told The Christian Post that as one of the original leaders at SGM, he was considered Mahaney’s right-hand man. “Scandals in SGM continue one after another,” Detwiler continued in his blog posted earlier this month and echoed in his interview with CP. “The lawsuit is moving forward. A new polity without biblical sanction will be put into place. Cover ups will continue. Nothing has changed. It only gets worse. There are no Charles Colsons in this scandalous story.”
  • An exhausted Senate gave pre-dawn approval Saturday to a Democratic $3.7 trillion budget for next year that embraces nearly $1 trillion in tax increases over the coming decade but shelters domestic programs targeted for cuts by House Republicans, reports. While their victory was by a razor-thin 50-49 vote, it allowed Democrats to tout their priorities. Yet it doesn’t resolve the deep differences the two parties have over deficits and the size of government. Joining all Republicans voting no were four Democrats who face re-election next year in potentially difficult races: Sens. Max Baucus of Montana, Mark Begich of Alaska, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, and Mark Pryor of Arkansas. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., did not vote. In contrast, a rival budget approved by the GOP-run House balances the budget within 10 years without boosting taxes. Republicans said the Democratic budget wasn’t much of an accomplishment. “The only good news is that the fiscal path the Democrats laid out . . . won’t become law,” said Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. “I believe we’re in denial about the financial condition of our country,” Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, top Republican on the Budget panel, said of Democratic efforts to boost spending on some programs. “Trust me, we’ve got to have some spending reductions.”