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September 02, 2014

Why is New Religious Freedom Group Silent on Abuses in Iran?

Bahai Garden for Blog.jpg

The Baha'i Garden in Haifa, Israel. The Baha'i are badly mistreated in Iran, which has a terrible record when it comes to religious freedom. Oddly enough, a new group dedicated to promoting religious freedom seems intent on ignorning the mistreatment of religious minorities in Iran. (Photo: Dexter Van Zile)

Given the violence that Christians and other religious minorities have endured in Muslim-majority countries in the Middle East, North Africa and Asia, the recent creation of a group called In Defense of Christians, should be cause for celebration.

The organization’s website and Facebook page provide numerous links to articles and videos about the mistreatment of Christians at the hands of radical Muslims in the Middle East. In the past few months, its website and Facebook page have been used to draw attention to violence against Christians in Iraq at the hands of ISIS.

The organization, which was founded sometime after 2012 in response a keynote address offered by Archbishop Francis Chullikatt at the Catholic Prayer Breakfast held annually in Washington, D.C., is charged with engaging in “policy advocacy for vulnerable Christians and other religious minorities.�?

The organization says that it will focus most of its efforts on influencing the actions of “the U.S. foreign policy community�? in an effort to convince them to “promote values abroad that are consistent with the universal rights of religion and conscience.�? The statement continues in part:

These values are not exclusively Christian, nor does IDC seek only to protect the human rights of Christians, but all religious groups. These rights are universal, applicable to all human persons. In this sense, “Christian�? refers not only those who confess the Christian faith, but also Muslim, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist, Baha’i, and even the freedom to confess no religious belief at all.

IDC believes that America’s foreign policy apparatus, especially the State Department, too often projects indifference on the question of persecuted religious minorities in the region, especially Christians – a policy that only invites further violence. In some instances, the U.S. government even provides significant foreign aid to regimes that persecute Christians, as with Pakistan and now Egypt. With a vigorous and sustained public awareness and advocacy campaign, IDC believes this can change.

All this is well and good, but there are some troubling aspects about the organization that give room for some nagging doubts.

No Mention of Iran
The organization seems reluctant to draw attention to the mistreatment of religious minorities in Iran. The group’s Facebook page offers little, if any, information about the lack of religious freedom in Iran and the country is not even listed in the drop-down menu that provides information about various countries in the Middle East where religious freedom is a problem. See the screenshot below.

In Defense of Christians.jpg

Iran, which has one of the worst records when it comes to religious freedom, does not merit its own entry in the drop-down menu of a new organization founded to lobby for the protection of religious minorities.

The organization’s failure to educate its supporters about the lack of religious freedom in Iran is more than a curiosity, it troublesome. In listing the members of the Baha’i faith elsewhere on its website (see the section quoted above), In Defense of Christians is implicitly acknowledging that Iran, where this religion was founded, has a terrible record on religious freedom. But if you search the website, you will find only three passing references to that country. Moreover, there are no references to Hezbollah, an organization well known for its hostility toward Christians in Lebanon.

There is an indirect reference to Israel on the organization’s website. The group’s page on the Holy Land offers the tropes were used to seeing about the Christian population “dwindling�? in the Holy Land despite the fact that the population of Christians has grown from 34,000 in 1949 to more than 130,000 today.

What’s going on here? Why are the organizers of In Defense of Christians so quiet about Iran on the group’s Facebook page and website? Clearly, the organization should be on the group’s radar.

The U.S. State Department’s 2013 report about religious freedom in Iran is a litany of abuses against non-Shia Muslims in that country. Christian Pastors have been imprisoned, practitioners of the Baha’i faith harassed, vilified and jailed, and Sunni Muslims have been convicted, under torture, of heresy, which is a capital offense in Iran. For more information about the mistreatment of the Baha’i in Iran, go here.

And yet for one reason or another In Defense of Christians, an organization that is dedicated to promoting the rights of religious minorities in the Middle East does not even list this country on its website.

Given Iran’s terrible record on human rights, this is no accidental omission.

What is going on here?

(Note: CAMERA has made multiple attempts to contact In Defense of Christians spokesperson Joseph Cella and has not been successful.)

Posted by dvz at September 2, 2014 04:49 PM


Using "Holy Land" instead of "Israel" made me raise my eyebrows, too. Are they afraid to refer to it directly? Do they not wish to acknowledge its existence?

Posted by: Joe in Australia at September 2, 2014 09:38 PM

I checked out their Website, and "IRan" is now listed. I emailed to organization wanting to know why their website does not reference the Bahai people being tortured and murdered in Iran. Here is the response I received from Joseph, the spokesperson for IDC.


Please note that it does:

Our launch has been on countries where we have traveled to in the last year to document persecution. And we may at some point soon visit Iran, but I am certain you know how difficult gaining entry can be.

Thank you for your interest.


DVZ Responds: Thanks for this! CAMERA has made multiple efforts to elicit a response about this and other issues, but have not gotten any response from Joseph Cella, the organization's spokesperson. Apparently, you had better luck!

Also, you should be aware that CAMERA acknowledged that IDC added a reference to Iran to its website, but only after Snapshots drew attention to its silence about Iran's terrible human rights record.

Here is what we wrote:

Posted by: Rosa at September 7, 2014 06:05 PM

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