The Obama administration has shocked many in the civil liberties community with the tacit endorsement of limitations of free speech in the United Nations. We have been following the international trend (here and here and here and here) to criminalize criticism of religions, including this prior column. The Administration has joined the UN Human Rights Council and has agreed to create a “new” standard balancing speech and respect for religion. These new standards are merely thinly disguised blasphemy laws that are spreading throughout the world, including the West.
The fear is that the Obama Administration will try to rehabilitate our image in the Muslim world by supporting this long effort to allow greater “consensus” on punishing criticism of religion as a form of hate speech.
Chargé d’Affaires Douglas Griffiths, announced:
“The United States is very pleased to present this joint project with Egypt. This initiative is a manifestation of the Obama administration’s commitment to multilateral engagement throughout the United Nations and of our genuine desire to seek and build cooperation based upon mutual interest and mutual respect in pursuit of our shared common principles of tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.”
Egypt has been one of the main proponents of an international blasphemy law.
There is no balancing needed. People should have the right to say anything about religions regardless of how offensive it may be to the majority of citizens or governments. The new resolution, however, stresses “the exercise of the right to freedom of expression carries with it special duties and responsibilities . . .” which include taking action against anything meeting the description of “negative racial and religious stereotyping.” The resolution would also insists that journalists “recognize . . . the moral and social responsibilities of the media” and supports “the media’s elaboration of voluntary codes of professional ethical conduct” in relation to “combating racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.”
For the leading democratic nation in the world to support such a principle of limiting free speech is an outrageous and dangerous development. It further shows the Administration’s willingness to trade principles for political gains. Congress needs to hold hearings and civil libertarians need to be heard on this new American initiative. There are various ways to appeal to Muslim nations without joining them in sacrificing free speech on the altar of religion.
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