Human rights activist Chen Guangcheng arrived in New York City Saturday with his wife, Yuan Weijing, and their two children. Chen and Yuan spent Sunday making final arrangements to study law and English at New York University, according to NYU law professor Jerome Cohen. Chen also took time to sit out in the sun, something he told Cohen he hadn’t done “for many, many years.”
A dozen members of Chen’s extended family, however, remain in jail or under house arrest in China. Most seriously, his nephew, Chen Kegui, remains in jail in Shandong Province, charged with attempted homicide for wounding one of ten intruders who broke into his father’s house in the middle of the night and beat him. The younger Chen could be executed if found guilty. Authorities confiscated the license of his original lawyer, and threatened to confiscate the license of a second lawyer who volunteered to defend him.
Now Reuters has obtained a videotaped message from the younger Chen’s wife, Liu Fang, saying that authorities Friday denied her husband two new lawyers she had retained to defend him. Police told the two that authorities had already appointed lawyers for the younger Chen from the local government-run legal aid center. Officials at the center told Reuters they have no knowledge of the case.
Youcef Nadarkhani is spending his 952nd day in prison today. The U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed a resolution on March 1st, calling for his release. A similar resolution, Senate Resolution 385, has been stalled for the past two-and-a-half months in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Since I last wrote about Nadarkhani, he has spent his 35th birthday in prison–the third he has passed behind bars. His attorney, Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, has been convicted of acting against the national security, spreading propaganda against the regime, and keeping banned books at home. Dadkhah was sentenced to nine years in prison.
Two weeks ago, Nadarkhani wrote an open letter to “all those who are concerned and worried about my situation.” In it, he thanks everyone who has “asked for my release,” speaks out forcefully against “words or activities” done in the name of defending human rights which are “insulting [to] the belief of other nations or people,” and asks readers to “pray for me.” Here is the original letter in Farsi, and here is an English translation.
And, finally, the Archdioceses of New York and Washington, D.C., the University of Notre Dame and 40 other Catholic dioceses and organizations filed 12 separate suits this morning in federal court, in 12 different venues around the country, against the Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and the Treasury, alleging infringement of their First Amendment right to freedom of religion.
Says Notre Dame’s president, Father John Jenkins, who invited Obama to speak at Notre Dame in 2009:
Let me say very clearly what this lawsuit is not about: it is not about preventing women from having access to contraception, nor even about preventing the Government from providing such services. Many of our faculty, staff and students — both Catholic and non-Catholic — have made conscientious decisions to use contraceptives. As we assert the right to follow our conscience, we respect their right to follow theirs. And we believe that, if the Government wishes to provide such services, means are available that do not compel religious organizations to serve as its agents. We do not seek to impose our religious beliefs on others; we simply ask that the Government not impose its values on the University when those values conflict with our religious teachings. We have engaged in conversations to find a resolution that respects the consciences of all and we will continue to do so.
This filing is about the freedom of a religious organization to live its mission, and its significance goes well beyond any debate about contraceptives. For if we concede that the Government can decide which religious organizations are sufficiently religious to be awarded the freedom to follow the principles that define their mission, then we have begun to walk down a path that ultimately leads to the undermining of those institutions. For if one Presidential Administration can override our religious purpose and use religious organizations to advance policies that undercut our values, then surely another Administration will do the same for another very different set of policies, each time invoking some concept of popular will or the public good, with the result these religious organizations become mere tools for the exercise of government power, morally subservient to the state, and not free from its infringements. If that happens, it will be the end of genuinely religious organizations in all but name.
And so the battle is joined.
Please take a moment to ask Sen. John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and/or Sen. Richard Lugar, ranking minority member, to support S. Res. 385, and bring it to a speedy vote.