GILAN, Iran (Catholic Online) - The martyrs of the early Church died for their faith in the God who was revealed in Jesus Christ, and for this very reason they also died for freedom of conscience and the freedom to profess one's own faith - a profession that no State can impose but which, instead, can only be claimed with God's grace in freedom of conscience.

A December 2005 address given by Pope Benedict XVI to the Roman Curia states the clear position of the Catholic Church concerning Religious Freedom as a fundamental human right:  "The Second Vatican Council, recognizing and making its own an essential principle of the modern State with the Decree on Religious Freedom, has recovered the deepest patrimony of the Church. By so doing she can be conscious of being in full harmony with the teaching of Jesus himself (cf. Mt 22: 21), as well as with the Church of the martyrs of all time.

"The ancient Church naturally prayed for the emperors and political leaders out of duty (cf. I Tm 2: 2); but while she prayed for the emperors, she refused to worship them and thereby clearly rejected the religion of the State. The martyrs of the early Church died for their faith in that God who was revealed in Jesus Christ, and for this very reason they also died for freedom of conscience and the freedom to profess one's own faith - a profession that no State can impose but which, instead, can only be claimed with God's grace in freedom of conscience.

"A missionary Church known for proclaiming her message to all peoples must necessarily work for the freedom of the faith. She desires to transmit the gift of the truth that exists for one and all. At the same time, she assures peoples and their Governments that she does not wish to destroy their identity and culture by doing so, but to give them, on the contrary, a response which, in their innermost depths, they are waiting for - a response with which the multiplicity of cultures is not lost but instead unity between men and women increases and thus also peace between peoples."

The Fundamental Human Right to Religious Freedom is under a frontal assault all around the world. The persecution against Catholics and other Christians has escalated. We regularly report on the persecution against Catholics. Today we bring to the attention of the global readership of Catholic Online the plight of a Protestant Christian pastor in Iran, Pastor Youce Nadarkhani. This brave Christian man was sentenced to death because he refuses to convert to Islam.

I first read about the plight of this Christian pastor in an article written by Daniel D. Tovrov of the International Business Times  entitled  Iranian Pastor Sentenced to Death: Nadarkhani Refuses to Convert  "Iranian Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, who is facing the death penalty, again refused to convert to Islam to save his life. Nadarkhani was arrested in 2009 for the crime of apostasy because he allegedly abandoned Islam for Christianity. As a pastor, Iranian clerics believe that Nadarkhani was preaching in order to convert Muslims.

"Before his last hearing Wednesday, Nadarkhani had been given three previous chances to repent, and all three times he has refused. After his final refusal Wednesday, no verdict has been announced, but many expect that he could be put to death as soon as Friday.The case has slowly garnered international attention, and there are a number of Christian rights groups advocating for his release.

"U.S. House Speaker John Boehner also has spoken out against Iran. "While Iran's government claims to promote tolerance, it continues to imprison many of its people because of their faith. This goes beyond the law to an issue of fundamental respect for human dignity. I urge Iran's leaders to abandon this dark path, spare [Nadarkhani's] life, and grant him a full and unconditional release," said Boehner. "

I then discovered that one of those groups rising to the defense of the Pastor was the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) which is led by a friend, Chief Counsel Jay Sekulow. I served the ACLJ for seven years as its first Executive Director. The American Center for Law and Justice reported on Thursday

"ACLJ attorneys confirmed with Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani's attorney in Iran, Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, that the death sentence still stands. Mr. Dadkhah stated that at the end of yesterday's hearing, three of the five judges appeared to be leaning toward annulling Pastor Youcef's sentence. Recognizing, however, that the judges' decision is not final and may be swayed by outside pressure before delivering the final verdict, he urges the international community to continue to cry out for Pastor Youcef's

unconditional release until he walks free from the jailhouse.

"The White House Press Secretary just released the following statement: "The United States condemns the conviction of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani. Pastor Nadarkhani has done nothing more than maintain his devout faith, which is a universal right for all people. That the Iranian authorities would try to force him to renounce that faith violates the religious values they claim to defend, crosses all bounds of decency, and breaches Iran's own international obligations.

"A decision to impose the death penalty would further demonstrate the Iranian authorities' utter disregard for religious freedom, and highlight Iran's continuing violation of the universal rights of its citizens. We call upon the Iranian authorities to release Pastor Nadarkhani, and demonstrate a commitment to basic, universal human rights, including freedom of religion."

While this is a huge step in the right direction, it is crucial that we continue to pressure Secretary of State Clinton to take direct action to save this pastor's life."

We agree with the ACLJ. The pressure must continue. All who desire to have their voices heard can join in the ACLJ's efforts to stop this brutal application of Shariah law and sign the Petition to Secretary of State Clinton - Call on Iran to save Christian Pastor Youcef from execution for his faith.  We will keep you updated as this case progresses and we ask you to pray for the release of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani and for an end to persecution of all Christians in Iran.

The character and courage of Christ is evident in the heroic witness of this pastor. When asked by the judges to repent, Nadarkhani stated: "Repent means to return. What should I return to? To the blasphemy that I had before my faith in Christ?"

"To the religion of your ancestors, Islam," the judge replied. "I cannot," Nadarkhani said.

I end with the words with which I began. The martyrs of the early Church died for their faith in the God who was revealed in Jesus Christ, and for this very reason they also died for freedom of conscience and the freedom to profess one's own faith - a profession that no State can impose but which, instead, can only be claimed with God's grace in freedom of conscience. Free Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani!