Most Americans may be surprised to learn that people still are killed because of their religious faith in some parts of the world.
A Saturday Gazette-Mail report described how Baha'i believers flee to America to escape deadly persecution in Iran.
One of them, Minoo Panahi, wears a facial scar where a Muslim classmate struck her with a rock. Her father formerly owned an appliance shop in Iran, but fanatics burned it. Her mother spent eight years in prison for the crime of being a Baha'i. Soon after Panahi was sent to Chicago for her safety, her father was gunned down at his home.
Baha'is are considered infidels in Iran and face recurring persecution. They cannot attend universities or participate in government. They're often jailed or killed. Their homes are burned, their cemeteries vandalized, their sacred places destroyed, and the like.
Baha'ism began in the mid-1800s when a Persian holy man -- Baha'u'llah, Promised One of All Religions -- declared that he was the long-anticipated savior of many faiths: the second coming of Jesus for Christians, the much-awaited Messiah for Jews, a prophesied Mahdi imam for Muslims, Krishna for waiting Hindus, etc.
He drew large throngs of followers -- but they were massacred in repeated attacks by surrounding Muslims. Historical accounts say 20,000 Bahai's were killed during an early period of violence.
The late shah of Iran, fearing public unrest, gave mullahs power over religious affairs -- and they orchestrated pogroms against Baha'is. After Ayatollah Khomeini seized power in 1979, the attacks intensified. Amnesty International, the U.N. Human Rights Council and other world groups have documented many seizures and executions of Baha'is in Iran.
Often, young Iranians are offered a choice to convert to Islam, then are jailed or hanged if they refuse.
This horrifying situation spotlights the importance of America's freedom of religion, which has been adopted by democracies around the world. The First Amendment in the U.S. Bill of Rights requires government to keep its hands off religion. Churches are free to preach whatever they wish, and to seek members and grow without interference. One faith cannot use government power to gain dominance over others.
Freedom of religion is so deeply ingrained in America that it's barely noticed -- until people see horror that sprouts in places lacking it.