This Christmas, Remember Pastor Saeed. Remember the Persecuted Church

This is the second Christmas that Pastor Saeed Abedini, a U.S. citizen, will spend in an Iranian prison.

His only crime? His Christian faith.

Last Christmas, Pastor Saeed was locked away in Evin Prison – Iran’s brutal destination for political prisoners – where he was beaten and abused, suffering internal injuries.

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This Christmas, he’s in an even worse prison, a prison overrun with murderers and rapists, where Pastor Saeed has already been threatened at knifepoint, and his life is in danger every day.

Inexcusably, he remains in prison even after the Obama administration made a “deal” with his captors. According to this “deal,” Iran keeps enriching uranium, Iran keeps its centrifuges (key equipment for building nuclear weapons), Iran gets billions in sanctions relief, and Iran gets “humanitarian transactions” from the United States.

Before this deal, Iran also received back one of its own, a nuclear scientist imprisoned in the United States.  

His crime? Nuclear proliferation.

And what did America get in return? Certainly not its own citizen, in chains for the Gospel.

We pledged humanitarian aid for the Iranians. Where is Iran’s humanitarian gesture for America?

Earlier this month, Pastor Saeed’s wife, Naghmeh, traveled from her Idaho home to once again testify before Congress on behalf of her husband. Alongside my son, ACLJ Executive Director Jordan Sekulow, she pleaded for the State Department not to leave Pastor Saeed behind, telling Congress:

I had anticipated that I would battle the Iranian government for my husband’s freedom. I never anticipated that I would also have to battle my own government and that the journey would become even much more difficult than it had been. My husband is suffering because he’s a Christian. He’s suffering because he’s an American. Yet his own government did not fight for him when his captors were across the table from them.

But as we remember Pastor Saeed, we can’t forget the plight of millions of Christians in the Middle East, nor can we forget that again and again the Obama administration has made deliberate choices that have increased their suffering.

In Egypt, after the administration’s naïve embrace of the “Arab Spring,” President Obama threw his weight behind the Muslim Brotherhood, even as it enacted a Shariah-based constitution and its enforcers killed Christian protestors. 

He condemned the popular revolution that threw the Brotherhood out of power and continued to defend the Brotherhood even as they set fire to dozens of churches in reprisal.

In Syria, the president threw his weight behind an Al Qaeda-infested insurgency, trying to drag the United States into war on behalf of rebels who murdered priests and assaulted ancient Christian towns. Fortunately, the American people – left and right – spoke with one voice to prevent American bombs from helping Al Qaeda and harming Christians.

And now, the president throwing his weight behind an Iranian regime that has yet to provide any evidence that it’s dealing with America in good faith.

The president has to change course. After five years of failure in his dealings with jihadists, he has to realize that strength matters, and we can’t squander our considerable economic leverage without getting anything in return.

America and Iran are still at the bargaining table, and as they bargain, the world’s lone superpower must send Iran – and the entire Muslim world – two clear messages: America takes care of its own, and America will never support or abet the persecution of Christians.

If we don’t send those messages, if we remain on the course of appeasement and retreat, then more churches will burn, more Christians will suffer, and next Christmas Pastor Saeed will still be in prison, facing abuse and dangers that we can scarcely imagine.

It’s time to draw the line. No more deals, no more sanctions relief, until an American pastor is returned to his family.

Jay Sekulow is Chief Counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which focuses on constitutional law. He is a New York Times bestselling author. Jay's latest book is "UNDEMOCRATIC: How Unelected, Unaccountable Bureaucrats Are Stealing Your Liberty and Freedom" (Howard Books May 19, 2015). He hosts "Jay Sekulow Live"-- a daily radio show which is broadcast on more than 850 stations nationwide as well as Sirius/XM satellite radio. Follow him on Twitter @JaySekulow.