Plight of Iran’s Baha’is Highlighted at Congressional Town Hall Meeting

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For many years, local delegations of Baha’is have developed relationships with members of Congress in collaboration with the U.S. Baha’i Office of Public Affairs (OPA).

These relationships serve not only to build national-level support for the oppressed Baha’is in Iran, but also to widen general awareness of the Baha’i presence in the United States.

A pair of Baha’is in Southern California saw both those processes blossoming at the same time, when a public word of gratitude from the Baha’i community generated warm applause from a packed house at Rep. Harley Rouda’s Dec. 14 town hall meeting in Newport Beach.

Soheila Abbassi, a member of a Baha’i delegation, poses with Rep. Harley Rouda at a Dec. 14, 2019, town hall meeting. Photo courtesy of Susan Fothergill
Soheila Abbassi, a member of a Baha’i delegation, poses with Rep. Harley Rouda at a Dec. 14, 2019, town hall meeting. Photo courtesy of Susan Fothergill

The two were part of a delegation that had visited Rouda at his office weeks earlier, with coordination by OPA and a Local Spiritual Assembly, the elected governing Baha’i governing council for a community, in the coastal area of Orange County. Such visits are key in raising awareness, adding cosponsors to congressional resolutions, and taking other actions to shine a light on the dire situation of the Baha’is in Iran. “It was a very moving moment and a great finale to the town hall meeting,” says Susan Fothergill, a member of the delegation. The moderator later invited another member, Soheila Abbassi, to pose for a picture with Rouda.

For the past few decades, either the House, the Senate or both have passed resolutions in defense of the Baha’is in Iran every congressional term. Along with similar actions by other countries, these resolutions remind the Iranian government that the international community is watching. Baha’is believe this helps mitigate the mistreatment of Baha’i citizens and other religious minorities in Iran.

At their first meeting in Rouda’s district office, the congressman expressed wholehearted support for any resolution in defense of the Baha’is in Iran that might be introduced into the current Congress.

To further strengthen relationships with congressional offices, Baha’i delegations are encouraged to routinely attend town hall meetings held by their representatives.

And in December, when Fothergill and Abbassi attended the town hall meeting for their district, they were “greeted very warmly” and encouraged to submit questions — especially on topics other than the intensive political and legal wrangling in the nation’s capital.

“I submitted a ‘thank you’ and appreciation,” Fothergill notes, “on behalf of the persecuted Baha’is in Iran and [for] his help in supporting upcoming legislation.”

When the question-and-answer session came around, the moderator saved the Baha’is’ comment card for last.

Fothergill says the moderator recognized the Baha’i delegation and mentioned its expression of thanks for the congressman’s support for the persecuted Baha’is in Iran.

People at the meeting “broke out into thunderous applause, which brought tears to my eyes and heart,” she relates.


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