On October 27, 1659, William Robinson and Marmaduke Stevenson became the first victims of religious oppression in what is now the United States of America. Both of them were Quakers, and they had moved here from England in 1656 to escape religious persecution in that country. Unfortunately for them, The Massachusetts General Court had passed a law banning Quakers from the colony under penalty of death in 1658, and they were executed.
In view of the fact that one of the core beliefs of the Quakers is the “Friends Peace Testimony” , which utterly denys all outward wars, they really weren’t much of a threat to the colonists, but ignorance of the beliefs of other religions was as prevalent then as it is now.
Although five of our 44 Presidents had no religious affiliation at all (including Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln) , our country has had two Presidents who were Quakers, Herbert Hoover and Richard Nixon. As a result, Nixon was likely more conflicted about the Vietnam War than most of us realized.
The dominant religion in the American Colonies was the Anglican religion (the Church of England) and people could be (and were) put to death for “crimes” like disagreeing with their pastor.
Between February of 1692 and May of 1693, the Salem witch trials were held in Massachusetts. More than 150 people were arrested, and ultimately 19 people were put to death for their “crimes”. The Salem witch trial episode is one the most famous cases of mass hysteria in America, and has been used in political rhetoric and popular literature as a vivid cautionary tale about the dangers of isolationism, religious extremism, false accusations, lapses in due process, and governmental intrusion on individual liberties.
When our Founding Fathers crafted our Constitution, they wisely inserted religious freedom into the very first amendment, and many of the ideas in the Bill of Rights are drawn from the lessons learned during the time of the Salem trials.
As logical as religious freedom seems to us, there are LOTS of places in the world where it’s not allowed, even in places where it is codified into law. The most prominent example of this inequity is in present day Iran. Even though Chapter III of the Constitution that was signed into law in October of 1979 grants religious freedom, freedom of the press, and freedom of assembly, those rights aren’t always accorded.
The most prominent victim of the violation of the freedom of assembly protection was Neda Agha-Soltan, whose death on June 20, 2009, has been described as “the most widely viewed death in human history”.
A much greater violation of the Constitution is the one related to freedom of religion. 89% of the population are members of the Shi’a branch of the Islam religion, 9% belong to the Sunni branch of Islam, and the remaining 2% is divided among Baha’is, Mandeans, Hindus, Yezidis, Yarzanis, Zoroaststrians, Jews, and Christians. The latter three are officially recognized and protected, and have seats in Parliament.
The largest group in the 2% minority are the Baha’is, whose religion is not recognized. Although followers of the Baha’i religion have been discriminated against ever since the religion was founded in 1863 in Iran, persecution of Baha’is has increased since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, with more executions , denial of civil rights and liberties, and denial of access of higher education and employment.
Correction of the injustice against the Baha’is in Iran will not be an easy task, but it CAN be achieved, ultimately, through a “green revolution". Since neither Israel or the United States has diplomatic relations with Iran, a concerted effort on the part of the United Nations will be needed.
The economy of Iran is the 16th largest in the world, and the service sector was the largest contributor to the GDP, just like it is in America. However, 45 % of the government’s income comes from oil and natural gas reserves. Iran ranks second in the world in natural gas reserves, and third in the world in oil reserves. If the governments in the United Nations could somehow act in concert for the next decade or so about how to deal with Iran, the plight of the Baha’is in Iran could be remedied with a very simple solution:
For every year that Baha’s continue to be persecuted in Iran, the world powers would consume a minimum of 10% less of Iranian natural gas and oil than they did in the previous year.
When the leaders of Iran finally start to feel some REAL PAIN in their pocketbook,you might actually get to see REAL religious freedom in the land that is home to one of the oldest civilizations in the world, and the 7,000,000 adherents of the faith around the world will finally be able to breathe a sigh of relief.