President Barack Obama described at the National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday the "extraordinary letter" he recently received from pastor Saeed Abedini, an American citizen serving eight years in an Iranian prison for his faith. The American Center for Law and Justice urged Obama to keep his word and bring the pastor home to his family.
Obama reminded attendees at the Prayer Breakfast that in 2014 they prayed together for Abedini's release, and said his administration has been working hard on trying to get Iran to grant his freedom.
"And I was recently in Boise, Idaho, and had the opportunity to meet with pastor Abedini's beautiful wife and wonderful children and to convey to them that our country has not forgotten Brother Saeed, and that we are doing everything we can to bring him home," Obama said.
Abedini then sent Obama a letter from prison thanking the president for meeting his wife and children. The imprisoned American said that Obama's gesture has inspired the many Christians around the world who are being persecuted for their faith.
"They have had a heavy burden to carry in my absence, and your presence helped to relieve some of that burden. ... Thank you again for standing up for my family and I and for thousands of Christians across the world who are persecuted for their faith in Jesus Christ. President Obama, you have my prayers from inside of these walls," Abedini wrote.
"Nothing is more valuable to the body of Christ than to see how the Lord is in control and moves ahead of countries and leadership through united prayer," the pastor continued.
"Thank you again for standing up for my family and I and for thousands of Christians across the world who are persecuted for their faith in Jesus Christ."
Obama said that the U.S. will continue fighting for religious freedom rights, and will "keep up this work for Abedini and all those around the world who are unjustly held or persecuted because of their faith."
The president focused heavily on the role of faith in the world in his address on Thursday, and said that although it's sometimes distorted for evil purposes, it is faith that can oppose those committing acts of evil.
The ACLJ, which represents Naghmeh Abedini and the couple's two children, said that it is "thankful" for Obama's public acknowledgement of Abedini's plight.
At the same time, the law group urged America not to agree on an important nuclear deal with Iran later this year until the Islamic nation agrees to respect human rights and releases Abedini and other imprisoned American citizens.
"Pastor Saeed is still experiencing increased pain from prison beatings. He needs medical treatment and deserves to be home. We must bring him home," the ACLJ said.
"Urge President Obama to keep his word and bring this wrongfully imprisoned American husband and father home to his family."
An online petition started on BeHeardProject.com calling for Abedini's release has received over 231, 000 signatures.