Last summer, Taliban terrorists claimed to have slit the throat of Maulawi Assadullah, a Muslim cleric they accused of "propagating Christianity" in the remote Awdand province. The U.S. State Department has not confirmed Assadullah's alleged June 30 death, reported by Reuters news agency, or provided details about the case. A department spokesman said it was "definitely unconfirmed" about who might have been responsible for the slaying.

Nevertheless, religious freedom is precarious in Afghanistan. In November 2001 the U.S.-led coalition toppled the totalitarian Taliban regime, which had imposed a harsh form of Islamic law on the nation of 25 million. While presidential elections are scheduled to be held this month and some groups, including women, are seeing their lot improve, Christians are still having a hard time. Since liberation, the country has endured what the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) called a "Taliban-lite" regime. With Islam as the state religion, in January 2004 the government adopted a constitution that contains few safeguards for religious freedom.

Nina Shea, vice chair of USCIRF, is concerned. "The constitution was adopted without individual religious freedom," Shea said. "There is a provision in there that no law can contradict Islam. Blasphemy is a serious crime enforced by the state."

Americans who have traveled to the Central Asian country say there are no churches and that Christians are not free to worship publicly. Warlords informally control much of the countryside. Christians constitute far less than 1 percent of the population.

For Afghan Christians, living in the country "is absolutely unsafe," said Mark Morris, pastor for missions at Germantown Baptist Church in Germantown, ...

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