Americans are being encouraged to leave an empty dinner place on Thanksgiving Day for Saeed Abedini as a sign of solidarity with the imprisoned American pastor. A group is also setting up a Thanksgiving display in front of the White House to petition for his release.
"While Americans enjoy the blessings of spending Thanksgiving Day with family and friends, it is important to remember that millions around the world are being brutalized, persecuted and attacked for their Christian faith. Thousands are in prison," said the Rev. Patrick J. Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition.
"Pastor Saeed will not be able to spend this special day with his wife and two young children, but instead will be spending it in a cramped prison facing constant violence and persecution."
Abedini is currently serving an eight-year sentence in Iran for his Christian faith and was recently moved to Rajai Shahr prison in Karaj, described as an overcrowded prison for violent criminals where people are sometimes sent to "disappear."
The American Center for Law and Justice, which represents the pastor's wife and two children in the U.S., says the government betrayed Abedini after it failed to make his release a precondition for a controversial nuclear deal with Iran.
"President [Barack] Obama and Secretary of State [John] Kerry turned their backs on a U.S. citizen by refusing to secure his freedom before reaching an agreement with Iran," Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the ACLJ, said in a statement. "It is outrageous and a betrayal of American Pastor Saeed Abedini who has spent more than a year in an Iranian prison simply because of his Christian faith."
While Obama has previously spoken with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani over the phone about Abedini's release, the ACLJ saw the nuclear talks as a real missed opportunity for the U.S. government to take the issue seriously and press the Islamic Republic in facilitating the pastor's release.
The nuke deal, which provides $7 billion in relief from international sanctions for Iran in return for temporary freezing its nuclear program, has been criticized by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who called the deal a "historic mistake."
The Christian Defense Coalition will be leaving a place setting in front of the White House Thursday morning across Lafayette Park.
Mahoney, who has spoken out for Abedini's release before, says that people should never be silent on human rights justice and religious freedom.
"We must always be a loud prophetic voice in the public square calling for an end to the persecution and violence directed toward people because of their faith beliefs," he said.
"'Leave a Thanksgiving Place Setting for Pastor Saeed,' is a powerful way for Americans to stand in solidarity with the persecuted church around the world and teach their families about the important issues of human rights and religious freedom."
People wishing to participate in the event can post their pictures on the Facebook Page. The Christian Defense Coalition plans to compile an album to give to Abedini when he is released from prison.