By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Editor
(CNN) - Since 1999, the U.S. State Department has tracked the world's worst abusers of religious rights.
As the most recent report notes, it has never lacked for material. Persecutions of people of faith are rising across the globe.
Among the most worrying trends, according to the State Department, are "authoritarian governments that restrict their citizens’ ability to practice their religion."
In typically bland bureaucratic language, the State Department calls these "countries of particular concern." But the designation can come with some teeth.
Sudan, for example, where a Christian woman was sentenced to death this week for leaving Islam, is ineligible for some types of foreign aid.
In addition to Sudan, here are the State Department's "countries of particular concern." You might call them "The Worst Places in the World to Be Religious."
Editor's note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "The American Bible: How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.
By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN
(CNN) — At first glance, it would seem that the town of Greece, New York, has been brazenly violating the First Amendment. For roughly a decade, it invited local Christians — and only Christians — to offer prayers opening its Town Board meetings.
Two non-Christian town residents — Susan Galloway (who is Jewish) and Linda Stephens (who is an atheist) — objected, arguing that this practice violated the First Amendment's Establishment Clause, which states, “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion.”
The Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, finding that the town’s practice of repeatedly inviting Christians to offer demonstrably Christian prayers amounted to an unconstitutional endorsement of Christianity. On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to take up the case.
By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Editor
(CNN) - Dwight K. Schrute was many things: paper salesman, beet farmer, lovable dork. Though he came from Amish stock, Schrute showed more interest in martial arts than Bibles and buggies.
But the man who played Schrute for nine years calls religion central to his life, and as Rainn Wilson transitions to life after “The Office,” his Baha’i faith is taking center stage.
Wilson is on the forefront of a campaign called “Five Years Too Many” that calls for the release of seven Baha’i volunteer leaders who have been imprisoned in Iran for the past five years.
“People need to know that this has happened and that this is happening and they don't,” Wilson said. “There are Baha'is rotting in jail on a 20-year sentence on trumped up charges simply because they have a certain set of faith beliefs that run against the theocracy in Iran."
The move from actor to advocate for a world religion is a big shift for Wilson. After a failed movie career and a lot of soul searching he is at peace with his television success and knows that his career might have peaked with “The Office,” which ends next Thursday after nine years on the air. FULL POST
By Mitra Mobasherat and Joe Sterling, CNN
(CNN) – The three Iranian security officers rang the doorbell, politely informed the man of his arrest, thoroughly searched the house, confiscated high-tech gear and books, and whisked him away to the nation's notorious Evin Prison.
The early Sunday morning raid took three hours. Now, every second seems like an eternity for the man's anguished family members, praying for his physical safety, hoping for his release, and getting their heads around the prospect of a long stint in prison, his relatives told CNN.
His family says the reason for his arrest is his religion.
By Eric Marrapodi, CNN
Washington (CNN) – It is a bad time to be a Baha'i in Iran, American adherents of the faith say.
The religion, founded in Iran in 1844, is now considered heretical by Iranian authorities. Its 300,000 adherents in the country "may face repression on the grounds of apostasy," according to the annual report of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
On Wednesday, Iraj Kamalabadi and other Baha'is came to Washington to tell the commission just how bad things are for his sister, Fariba Kamalabadi, and six others who have been imprisoned because of their faith since 2008.
Iraj Kamalabadi was born in Iran and came to the United States for college. He stayed in the U.S. after the Iranian revolution for fear of religious persecution in his homeland. Now he is petitioning his adopted home government to step up the pressure on Iranian authorities.
Editor's Note: From CNN's Eric Marrapodi
Rainn Wilson wants you to destroy his new book.
The actor's "Soulpancake: Chew on Life's Big Questions" came out on Tuesday.
"The book almost shouldn't be called a book. It should be like a workbook. It's an interactive thing that you carry with you. It encourages you to destroy it, almost. Draw on the pages. Write on it," Wilson said as he headed in for an early morning shoot for NBC's hit sitcom "The Office."
Minoo Vosough can still hear the guards' boots marching down the cold hallways of Iran's Gohardasht prison. The screams of other inmates burn her ears.
She can feel the thud of a fist coming down on her head. And the world going black as she was blindfolded and shoved in a courtroom to hear her fate.
She was arrested in Tehran more than 25 years ago - beaten, interrogated and thrown into solitary confinement. Once a week, she was taken out for a shower. She could tell if it was bright or overcast only by the small window high up in her cell. She cherished the chirping of birds outside.
All she had was a blanket, a spoon and a broken fork.
The Iranian regime accused Vosough of espionage, though she was never charged or afforded legal representation. Her crime in the Islamic republic, she says, was - and still is - her faith.
She is a Baha'i.
She has not spoken publicly about her terrifying experience in an Iranian jail. Until now.
Editors Note: CNN's Michael Schwartz files this report from Haifa, Israel:
For a hundred years, the grave of the Bab has served as a place of homage for Baha’i pilgrims.
A predecessor to the Baha’u’llah, founder of the Baha’i faith, Baha’is call the Bab "prophet herald" and say his message is one of peace and tolerance, one of social reform and of a world moving towards greater equality, greater unity.
Seven Baha'i leaders in Iran have each received 20-year prison sentences, according to reports received by the Baha'i International Community, the group said Sunday.
"If this news proves to be accurate, it represents a deeply shocking outcome to the case of these innocent and harmless people," said Bani Dugal, the principal representative of the Baha'i International Community to the United Nations.
Word of the sentences came from an Iranian-based group called the Committee of Human Rights Defenders, according to Diane Ala'i, another Baha'i U.N representative. The Baha'i International Community is working to confirm the reports, she said.
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.