By Michelle Bauman
The U.S. Congress and numerous celebrities are joining the effort to free an Iranian pastor who received the death sentence for refusing to reject his Christian faith.
On March 1, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously approved a resolution condemning the Iranian government for “its continued persecution, imprisonment, and sentencing” of Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani on apostasy charges.
The resolution calls on Iran to “exonerate and immediately and unconditionally release” Nadarkhani and all others who have been imprisoned for their religious beliefs.
Introduced by Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.), the resolution observed that Iran’s own constitution recognizes religious freedom, as does the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, both of which Iran has signed.
A similar resolution is being considered by the U.S. Senate.
“The House sent a clear message today,” said Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) on March 1. “Religious freedom is a universal human right.”
“No person – of any country or creed – should live in fear of persecution for worshipping as they see fit, or be forced by government mandate to disavow or compromise their faith.”
Nadarkhani has been in jail since 2009, when he was arrested after complaining to local authorities about his son being forced to read the Koran at school.
An Iranian court ordered the pastor to recant his Christian beliefs or face execution. Despite repeated threats, he has refused to renounce his faith.
On Feb. 21, the American Center for Law and Justice, which has been working for Nadarkhani’s release, said that it had received reports that an execution order had been issued for the pastor.
It urged increased international attention and pressure on the Iranian government to prevent it from carrying out the execution, which could take place at any time.
The U.S. State Department and White House have both called for Nadarkhani’s release. In addition, several members of Congress have spoken up on Twitter, including Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), who has posted multiple updates about the House resolution.
The social media effort to support Nadarkhani has also gained the attention of numerous celebrities, including several famous athletes, actresses and media personalities.
NFL quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and international soccer icon Ricardo Kaká have both tweeted about Nadarkhani, as have businessman Donald Trump and political commentators Michelle Malkin and Ann Coulter.
Actresses Julie Benz and Patricia Heaton also sent out tweets about the pastor’s plight and urged their followers to do the same.
Several of the celebrities have also signed on to a Twitter campaign in which they allow one tweet per day to be sent from their account to advocate for Nadarkhani.
The campaign, organized by the American Center for Law and Justice, has been very successful, reaching nearly 1 million Twitter accounts per day.