Mormon woman volunteers to be whipped to save Saudi blogger

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Saudi Flag“Are you as brave as Katrina Lantos Swett?”

That was the subject line of an email I received yesterday from the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice.

Its founder, Katrina Lantos Swett, is also the chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom in Washington, D.C.

She’s in the news this week because she and six other human rights activists have volunteered to take 100 lashes each of the 1,000-lash punishment that Saudi Arabia is meting out to a blogger accused of heresy against Islam.

Raif Badawi, a 30-year-old Saudi writer and father of three, is currently serving a prison sentence for “insulting Islam” on his website Free Saudi Liberals (which has, ironically, been shut down). Badawi is supposed to be whipped every Friday with 50 lashes until he has been lashed a thousand times. He endured the first flogging in January, and his health was so damaged that the government has postponed (but not prohibited) further whipping.

I briefly met Lantos Swett in September when she spoke at the annual Religion Newswriters Association conference. She was courageous and smart, describing in some detail the lack of religious freedom in various nations around the world, from Eritrea to North Korea.

Somewhere along the way she mentioned that she has seven children, and my Modar started tingling. I Googled Lantos Swett’s background while she was still talking, and swelled with pride when I learned that this impressive and passionate woman is a member of the LDS Church.

I introduced myself to her after the session, and even though she was rushing off to the airport she made time to talk to me and give me a hug. I’ve been following the efforts of her organization ever since.

Some background: She grew up Jewish, the daughter of two Hungarian Holocaust survivors. Her father served as a Congressman from San Francisco for 27 years, passing on to his children the importance of protecting human rights around the world.

While a teen at Yale (she got her B.A. when she was just 18), she was introduced to the LDS Church by her older sister, who was also a student, and started attending Institute classes taught by a doctoral candidate named Jeffrey R. Holland. (Wouldn’t you have loved to be a fly on the wall for those classes?)

Lantos Swett has said that her background in both Mormonism and Judaism has made her sensitive to the need for religious freedom and protections for minority groups. “Both of these faith communities have experienced intense persecution at different times,” she told the Deseret News in 2012.

It’s unlikely that she or any of the other human rights activists will ever be called to stand in for their promised 100 lashes.

But the visibility they have brought to this case seems to have given the government of Saudi Arabia pause in pursuing its planned course of action. On Wednesday Lantos Swett told a newspaper in her home state of New Hampshire that the Saudis “have not yet lashed him [Badawi] again. We have heard through channels that they are sort of looking for an exit ramp from this situation.”

  • Crazywomancreek

    I think I’m all cried out but I’m not. Thank you for this, Jana.

  • Isn’t it inspiring? It’s provincial of me, I know, but I’m so glad she’s part of my tribe. I feel inspired by her.

  • She is the wife of Dick Swett, a former Democratic Congressman from New Hampshire, U.S. ambassador to Denmark and also a Yalie (as was at least one of their children). I think Mitt Romney was a fan of Swett’s and contributed to his campaigns in the early 1990s.

  • Wahoo Fleer

    Wow, this is a schoolyard anti-bullying tactic on an international scale. Bravo to her!

  • bleugh

    She must be doing something right if she’s the wife of a guy Mitt Romney likes!

  • A *Democrat* Mitt Romney likes, anyway.

    I did look up the contribution, and it was only $250. For someone like Romney that’s a pretty small token.

  • Stephen Lewis

    Great guts but her theology is bad as she chooses two different false religious paths to follow, Judaism and Mormonism. But her motivation is Christian, to go up against extreme social injustice routinely handed out by Muhammadan idol worshipers with no sense of human rights because their prophet had no such sense either. So I applaud her fortitude but don’t hope to see her link it to either of her religious beliefs but to the Spirit of Christ pure, without man-made religion overlay.

  • Jack

    You should be, Jana. Very good article, too.

  • What about 1000 volunteers, so each one of as can recieve just one slash?

  • Jack

    Ultimately, when all is said and done, Stephen, the High King of Heaven judges our hearts.

  • Jack, as a Jewish Christian, I’m curious. Do you know who your “High King of Heaven” is?

  • Danny’s

    And here we go.

  • Jussi Kemppainen

    Stephen, as an x-protestant my protests ended when my personal relation with the Savior began the day I was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of LatterDay Saints. That relationship is the core of every LDS person/belief. Hopefully one day you, too, will know how we live and love Christ.

  • Raymond Takashi Swenson

    Sister Lantos-Swett was the featured speaker a couple of weeks ago for the annual fireside of the J. Reuben Clark Law Society, held in the Conference Center theater and broadcast via the Church satellite network to Clark Society chapters worldwide. The Clark Society is the alumni association for BYU’s Clark Law School but also includes LDS lawyers and others who share our concern with incorporating Judeo-Christian values into the practice of law. It has a very thoughtful semi-annual journal, the Clark Memorandum, which will publish the text of Sister Lantos-Swett’s fireside address. There are compilations of articles titled “Life in the Law” and published as books, and it is viewable online. Her predecessors as fireside speakers have included church general authorities, including several who practiced law before their callings.

    The story of Tom Lantos and his wife is remarkable. I believe that she also joined the LDS Church. Another daughter and her family were featured in the PBS documentary “The Mormons”, and their experiences have been both harrowing and inspiring.

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  • Jussie, I am Jewish. Jesus Christ was Jewish. Joseph Smith was Gentile. “Salvation is of the Jews” and only Jewish prophesy bearers carry the Messianic Message. Gentile impersonators and imposters like Smith, like Muhammad, like a dozen others always get it wrong when they try to create new religions from our Jewish religion’s base. I can do it because God is with us Jewish prophesy bearers and your grandchildren will know about Christ’s Sword in Jerusalem and about Josephine bearing the Spirit of Christ’s arrival in the Northern Cheyenne/Lakota tribes. Mormonism was always off base and literally out of line as you should have suspected from anything coming from outer space alien “Moroni” which is plural in Italian for morons. So many people will believe anything handed to them as a Script and told “believe this because we say so” and its so comfy in our group hug collective mindset. Here, marry this man and join his wives but dare not think you can have several husbands..

  • tirzah

    Haha Stephen is obviously a troll don’t give him fodder. Hahaha

  • Ethan Davis

    Great insights, Steven. I’m curious, would you be willing to show your devotion to God by making the same sacrifices that the woman in the article has made?

  • Jack

    Her mother apparently is a Mormon as well, yes.

    They seem like lovely people.

  • Clifton Palmer McLendon

    The laws in Saudi Arabia are the business of the Saudis, and nobody else.

    If people other than Saudis dislike Saudi law, the proper thing for them to do is emigrate to Saudi Arabia and become Saudi subjects. Then, and only then, will Saudi law be any of their business.

  • Kirtland

    Jesus Christ was and is the Messiah ben Judah. Joseph Smith was and is the Messiah ben Joseph. Jewish scholars are familiar with the Messiah ben Joseph, as evidenced in the Old Testament. Both are necessary for the salvation of the human family.

  • Kirtland

    If it comes down to it, I’ll volunteer to take a few lashes as well.

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  • Larry

    Except the business of the Saudis is more than the business of Saudi Arabia. They export their blood soaked religious and political ideas all throughout the world. The Saudis also get away with a remarkable level of repression for a nation “friendly” to Western nations.

    These are the people who used to hold telethons for the families of suicide bombers and who still by and large fund Sunni Islamic terrorists like Al Queda and ISIS.

    They need their dirty laundry seen by the rest of the world. We should know what kind of people our nation considers its “friends”.

  • Larry

    No Stephen, I will not join your little prayer circle or share a brightly colored beverage with you!

  • Linda

    I have a new hero! I once heard about a question asked in the 50’s of “Who were your hero’s” ask in a high school setting.” The answers were authors, presidents, generals, parents and people from the Bible. People like Gandhi, Sister Theresa, Clara Booth, Susan B Anthony. Same question 40 years later-sports figures, movie stars, race car drivers, friends and maybe a political name or two! There is nothing wrong with these people, but all these people are TV and movie ideals, not heroes to pattern a life after.

    We are living in a world were there is no respect for one another and raising our children to hate our neighbor. “Am I my Brother’s Keeper” has taken a whole new meaning when taken on by Katrina Lantos Swett.

  • Jeremy Mumford

    As Jana suggests at the end of the post: the risk that her gesture will have any consequence, either lashes for her or fewer lashes for Badawi, is about the same as the risk my “Free Tibet” bumper sticker will lead to my imprisonment by the Chinese government!