Presented today are two examples of religious extremism, both stunning in their simplicity and indecency.
One is unfolding far from our shores; the other, here at home. Both speak to us — or at least they should — because these events represent gross violations of universal rights.
The first involves Youcef Nadarkhani, a 34-year-old married pastor and father of two boys. Nadarkhani has been sentenced to death in Iran for refusing to renounce his faith.
Iranian authorities charge that Nadarkhani is a Muslim who committed an act of apostasy by converting to Christianity. They also say that he has evangelized to Muslims.
Nadarkhani was first jailed in 2006,but after two weeks, he was released.
He ran afoul of Iranian authorities again three years later, when he protested the government’s decision to teach all children, including those from Christian families, about Islam. Nadarkhani maintained that Iran’s constitution recognizes the freedom to practice religion.
Summoned to a political tribunal, he was arrested and charged with protesting — a charge later changed to apostasy and evangelism. He has been in prison ever since.
Nadarkhani was tried in September 2010 and verbally sentenced to death. A written verdict was handed down in November: execution by hanging.
The verdict was appealed to the Iranian Supreme Court, which upheld the death sentence this year but ordered a local court to find out whether Nadarkhani had been a practicing Muslim in his teens and thus merited a chance to recant. The inquiry found that the pastor did not convert to Christianity as an adult. Still, he was ordered to recant his beliefs. And for resisting, he faces the hangman’s noose.
The last time a pastor was killed in Iran for being Christian was 19 years ago. The only barriers that seem to be standing between Nadarkhani and the scaffold are international protests from advocates of religious freedom and some governments.
The Obama administration has condemned Nadarkhani’s conviction and called for his release. Forcing the pastor to renounce his faith “violates the religious values [Iranian authorities] claim to defend” and “crosses all bounds of decency,” the White House press secretary said.
Members of Congress from both parties have also weighed in. House Speaker John Boehner urged the Iranians to “abandon this dark path, spare Youcef Nadarkhani’s life, and grant him a full and unconditional release.” There is agreement across the political spectrum in this country that Iran is violating a universal human right: religious freedom.
Still, Nadarkhani remains in prison, facing daily pressure to abandon his faith.
The second example of religious extremism will be on display in this country next week.
After the death of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs on Wednesday, Westboro Baptist Church, as intolerant and disrespectful of human dignity as any group on earth, announced that it would launch a protest at his funeral.
Margie Phelps, the daughter of church founder Fred Phelps, said that members would picket Jobs’s funeral because he “gave God no glory & taught sin.”
The Topeka, Kan.-based church has engaged in this kind of un-Christian activity before, picketing outside funerals of celebrities and soldiers and distributing anti-gay material — anything to attract media attention. Westboro members contend that God is punishing America for tolerating sin, such as accepting homosexuality.
The message “THANK GOD! Steve Jobs is dead” was posted on the church’s Web site on Thursday. “Those captains of business/industry in Noah’s day did what Jobs and his cohorts do TODAY: turn the country over to the fags. Fag marriage will bring your destruction! Jobs is responsible!”
Unlike in repressive Iran, where the supreme leader’s voice prevails above all others, the right of Westboro Baptist Church to pursue its obnoxious protests is protected by the U.S. Constitution and was reaffirmed by the Supreme Court in March in Snyder v. Phelps.
There is no equivalency in power between Iran and Westboro Baptist. The Islamic republic’s capacity to destroy exceeds anything Westboro could imagine.
But there is something shared between these extremes. They are filled with hatred born of ignorance and fear, hatred that will bar them from the Heaven they claim to be seeking.
So these extremists spend their waking moments trying to make life a living hell for everyone unlike themselves — all in the name of their God.