In an inexplicable move, some religious organizations will host a dinner reception on September 25 for one of the world’s most renowned terrorist supporters, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He has been asked to speak on the topic, “Has Not One God Created Us? The Significance of Religious Contributions to Peace.” I stand with the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom in strongly condemning this move by the American Friends Service Committee, the Mennonite Central Committee, the World Council of Churches, and the Episcopal Church.


Ahmadinejad is a man who has repeatedly called for the annihilation of the Jewish state of Israel, rejects religious freedom, and embraces terrorism. It is well known that Ahmadinejad has called for Israel to be “wiped off the map” and is notorious for denying that the Holocaust occurred, saying of the West, “[t]hey have invented a myth that Jews were massacred.”


Ahmadinejad has also warned that “[a]nybody who recognizes Israel will burn in the fire of the Islamic nation’s fury.”


Just recently, the Iranian Parliament voted in favor of a bill permitting the death penalty for “apostasy,” i.e., voluntarily changing one’s religious faith.


Under this law, “Christians, Baha’is, and even some Muslims would be vulnerable to arbitrary arrest and imprisonment. . . . [T]wo Christians from Muslim backgrounds who are currently in prison for apostasy–Mahmoud Mohammad Matin-Azad and Arash Ahmad-Ali Basirat–could be given the death sentence.”


This law was enacted despite the fact that Iran voted in support of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights when it was adopted in December 1948. Article 18 of the Declaration states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief . . . .”


The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom recently sent a letter of protest to those who invited Ahmadinejad to speak which stated:


[W]e are convinced that this invitation and this platform will be counterproductive. President Ahmadinejad has manipulated such dialogues repeatedly into a platform for spreading hatred. He hosted some of the world’s most notorious deniers of the Holocaust, racists and anti-Semites at a 2006 conference questioning the well-established facts of the Holocaust and calling for the destruction of a member-state of the United Nations. The only accomplishment of such an invitation would be to burnish the Iranian leader’s legitimacy and cleanse his reputation as a purveyor of hate.


. . . [T]he invitation to President Ahmadinejad comes amid a rapidly accelerating deterioration of religious freedom and other human rights in Iran, including prolonged detention, torture, and executions often based on the religion of the accused.


. . . More than 20 Baha’is currently are in prison in Iran on account of their religious identity, and two Christian men were charged with apostasy earlier this month.


. . . Four women leaders of the One Million Signatures campaign, which is dedicated to ending discrimination against women in the application of Islamic law in Iran, have been jailed for six months for allegedly “spreading propaganda” against Iran’s Islamic system by advocating for its reform.   


. . . Reformists and journalists are regularly tried under current press laws and the Penal Code on charges of “insulting Islam,” criticizing the Islamic Republic, and publishing materials that deviate from Islamic standards.


. . . Inviting this leader undermines the legitimacy and seriousness of the “dialogue” termed “the significance of religious contributions to peace.” Just today, the State Department issued its annual International Religious Freedom Report, which underlines the long history of human rights violations in Iran and the continued deterioration of religious freedom conditions under President Ahmadinejad. . . .


At a time when so many Jews and Christians around the world face persecution for their faith, including those in Iran, this “celebration” with a man who leads the charge against religious freedom is outrageous, unacceptable and should not be tolerated. I am opposed to this meeting and certainly would implore these religious leaders to demand that this new apostasy law be rescinded if they insist on a meeting with Ahmadinejad. Appeasement did not work in the lead up to World War II and appeasing Ahmadinejad will not work here either.


Barry, will you stand with me in condemning this event?

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