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Sen. action needed on Iran, leaders say

WASHINGTON (BP)–Southern Baptist and other Christian leaders have called on the U.S. Senate to pass legislation to pressure Iran to give up on its nuclear arms program.

Officials with the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) were among those who urged stronger sanctions on the militant Islamic regime to bring an end to its nuclear ambitions. Richard Land, the ERLC’s president, and Barrett Duke, the ERLC’s vice president for public policy, signed onto the Jan. 24 letter from Christian Leaders for a Nuclear-free Iran.

The coalition letter was sent after Iran refused in meetings with the United States and other powers to provide openness about its development of nuclear weapons. Middle Eastern leaders — in countries such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia — are as concerned about a nuclear-armed Iran as are the United States and its European allies, the letter said. It based its assertion on recent reports, including diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks.

The leaders said in the letter they believe a nuclear-armed Iran “will destabilize the Middle East, lead to an arms race in a volatile part of the world, and threaten the United States and its allies in Europe.”

In addition to Land and Duke, another Southern Baptist signer was James Merritt, former president of the convention.

Other signers included Gary Bauer, president of American Values; Pat Robertson, chairman of the Christian Broadcasting Network; Penny Nance, chief executive officer of Concerned Women for America; Mathew Staver, chairman of Liberty Counsel; Jordan Sekulow, director of international operations at the American Center for Law and Justice, and James Robison, president of Life Outreach International.

In the letter, the leaders encouraged all 100 senators to support legislation that would include:

— Heightened sanctions under the 1996 Iran Sanctions Act that would punish American companies for violations by their subsidiaries or parent entities.

— Bar tax benefits for companies that violate the same law.

— Reform Voice of America’s Persian News Network to make sure it supports Iran’s pro-democracy movement.

— Move responsibility for pro-freedom funding in Iran from the State Department to the National Endowment for Democracy.

Last year, Congress passed and President Obama signed into law sanctions against Iran’s oil-related imports. Christian Leaders for a Nuclear-free Iran promoted the legislation.

In September, Obama issued an executive order under the new law that authorized sanctions against eight senior officials in Iran’s regime who, based on credible evidence, participated in “serious human rights abuses” before or during that country’s 2009 presidential election.

Reports of abuses by Iran of religious freedom and other human rights are common. It is one of only eight countries to be classified by the U.S. State Department as “countries of particular concern,” a designation reserved for the world’s worst violators of religious liberty.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) reported Jan. 7 that as many as 70 Christians had been taken into custody since Christmas. Most of those detained were evangelical Christians, but some were part of the country’s Armenian Christian community, according to USCIRF.
Compiled by Tom Strode, Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.

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