This September, children from families belonging to the Church of Iran denomination in the cities of Rasht and Shiraz have been told they must either study Shi'a Islam, or leave school. Originally, these children -- the majority of whom are second-generation Christians, and thereby recognized by the Iranian constitution to be part of a minority faith community -- were granted access to religious instruction designed by members of the Christian community and approved by the Ministry of Education.
Until recently, if children wished to proceed with religious instruction outside of the Islamic faith, their families could present a signed letter from the denomination requesting exemption from the study of Shi'a Islam. However, as the authorities are now rejecting this letter on the grounds that the church is considered an "illegal organization," they are insisting the children either agree to study Islam, or go home.
Under Article 30 of the Iranian constitution, the government is obligated to provide free education for all children until they complete secondary school. However, the policy adopted by school authorities in Rasht and Shiraz effectively deprives children currently enrolled in the primary and secondary school levels of the educational system, unless they agree to religious instruction that does not conform with their own faith.
Iran is party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which recognizes the rights of parents to ensure that the religious and moral education of their children is in line with their own convictions. The country has also ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child which commits signatories to ensure access to primary, secondary and tertiary levels of education. More information on the challenges faced by Christians in Iran can be found here.
Pray that God will uphold these precious children and their families, helping them to overcome this challenge by revealing how to wisely deal with the situation. Even though the students' rights to education are presently being threatened, may their thirst for knowledge not be quenched. Rather, may the Spirit of our Lord instill within them a desire to grow and learn from the Master Teacher so they can "increase in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and men" (Luke 2:52). Considering this Biblical text, may the hearts of the educational officials be impressed to maintain the rights of the Christian students -- in keeping with the country's constitution and, most importantly, God's Word.