Criminalizing Intolerance: Obama Administration Moves Forward On United Nations Resolution Targeting Anti-Religious Speech

Below is my column today in The Los Angeles Times on the conference this week in Washington on religious speech. I have previously written about the Obama Administration’s break with past policies to support Muslim countries in cracking down on speech deemed “defamatory” to religion. While the latest resolution does not repeat the defamation language, the purpose remains unchanged and the dangers for free speech are obvious. The non-binding resolution was passed in March, largely in response to the assassinations of two Pakistani officials who had spoken out against the nation’s blasphemy law. Ironically, however, the resolution will likely reinforce the right of countries to criminalize anti-religious speech and blasphemy laws.

This week in Washington, the United States is hosting an international conference obliquely titled “Expert Meeting on Implementing the U.N. Human Rights Resolution 16/18.” The impenetrable title conceals the disturbing agenda: to establish international standards for, among other things, criminalizing “intolerance, negative stereotyping and stigmatization of … religion and belief.” The unstated enemy of religion in this conference is free speech, and the Obama administration is facilitating efforts by Muslim countries to “deter” some speech in the name of human rights.

Although the resolution also speaks to combating incitement to violence, the core purpose behind this and previous measures has been to justify those who speak against religion. The members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, or OIC, have been pushing for years to gain international legitimacy of their domestic criminal prosecutions of anti-religious speech.

This year, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton invited nations to come to implement the resolution and “to build those muscles” needed “to avoid a return to the old patterns of division.” Those “old patterns” include instances in which writers and cartoonists became the targets of protests by religious groups. The most famous such incident occurred in 2005 when a Danish newspaper published cartoons mocking the prophet Muhammad. The result were worldwide protests in which Muslims reportedly killed more than 100 people — a curious way to demonstrate religious tolerance. While Western governments reaffirmed the right of people to free speech after the riots, they quietly moved toward greater prosecution of anti-religious speech under laws prohibiting hate speech and discrimination.

The OIC members have long sought to elevate religious dogma over individual rights. In 1990, members adopted the Cairo Declaration, which rejected core provisions of the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights and affirmed that free speech and other rights must be consistent with “the principles of the sharia,” or Islamic law. The biggest victory of the OIC came in 2009 when the Obama administration joined in condemning speech containing “negative racial and religious stereotyping” and asked states to “take effective measures” to combat incidents, including those of “religious intolerance.” Then, in March, the U.S. supported Resolution 16/18’s call for states to “criminalize incitement to imminent violence based on religion or belief.” It also “condemns” statements that advocate “hostility” toward religion. Although the latest resolution refers to “incitement” rather than “defamation” of religion (which appeared in the 2005 resolution), it continues the disingenuous effort to justify crackdowns on religious critics in the name of human rights law.

The OIC has hit on a winning strategy to get Western countries to break away from their commitment to free speech by repackaging blasphemy as hate speech and free speech as the manifestation of “intolerance.” Now, orthodoxy is to be protected in the name of pluralism — requiring their own notion of “respect and empathy and tolerance.” One has to look only at the OIC member countries, however, to see their vision of empathy and tolerance, as well as their low threshold for anti-religious speech that incites people. In September, a Kuwaiti court jailed a person for tweeting a message deemed derogatory to Shiites. In Pakistan last year, a doctor was arrested for throwing out a business card of a man named Muhammad because he shared the prophet’s name.

The core countries behind this effort show little tolerance or “empathy” themselves for opposing religions or viewpoints. Saudi Arabia will not allow the construction of a church in the kingdom, let alone allow public observance of other faiths. This year, the Saudi interior minister declared free speech to be an offense against God, declaring the kingdom “categorically [bans] all sorts of demonstrations, marches and sit-ins … as they contradict Islamic sharia law and the values and traditions of Saudi society.” Last week, Saudi courts sentenced an Australian Muslim to be flogged 500 times and sent to jail for “insulting” Muhammad.

What is more alarming, however, is the advancement of this agenda in Western countries. This year, Dutch legislator Geert Wilders secured a hard-fought acquittal from criminal charges after years of investigation and litigation for saying disrespectful things about Muslims. In Britain, a 15-year-old girl was arrested in November 2010 for burning a Koran. Other religions are now following suit and calling for the arrest of those who utter criticisms of their faiths. French fashion designer John Galliano was convicted in September of uttering anti-Semitic remarks in an outburst in a restaurant. In Russia, two prominent art curators in Moscow who faced up to three years in prison for showing art that insulted the Russian Orthodox Church were fined in 2010. In Britain, a 15-year-old boy was given a criminal summons for holding up a sign declaring “Scientology is not a religion, it is a dangerous cult.”

Although the OIC and the Obama administration claim fealty to free speech, the very premise of the meeting reveals a desire to limit it. Many delegates presuppose that speech threatens faith, when it has been religious orthodoxy that has long been the enemy of free speech. Conversely, free speech is the ultimate guarantee of religious freedom.

History has shown that once you yield to the temptation to regulate speech, you quickly find yourself on a slippery slope as other divisive subjects are added to the list. This year, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) declared ominously that “free speech is a great idea, but we’re in a war.”

It seems that some have grown weary of free speech. After all, less speech means less division and discord. When the alternative is violent protests, silence is golden for governments. Of course, denying the right to speak does not create real tranquillity, only the illusion. But for these governments, including our own, an illusion may be as good as reality.

Jonathan Turley is a professor of public interest law at George Washington University.

Los Angeles Times December 13, 2011

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56 thoughts on “Criminalizing Intolerance: Obama Administration Moves Forward On United Nations Resolution Targeting Anti-Religious Speech

  1. [Thanks, Prof. Turley. Here’s what confronted me on the exciting internet!]


    Emperor and Empress Obama (professional vacationers) can be found in the Old Testament! Read on:

    Proverbs 19:10 (NIV): “It is not fitting for a fool to live in luxury – how much worse for a slave to rule over princes!”
    Also Proverbs 30:22 (NIV) which says that the earth cannot bear up under “a servant who becomes king.”
    And Ecclesiastes 5:2-3 (KJV) advises: “let thy words be few…a fool’s voice is known by multitude of words.”
    Although Obama is not descended from slaves, he may feel that he’s destined to become a black-slavery avenger.
    Or maybe an enslaver of all free citizens!
    For some stunning info on Pres. Obama and his fellow traitors, Google “Imam Bloomberg’s Sharia Mosque,” “Michelle Obama’s Allah-day,” “Obama Supports Public Depravity,” “David Letterman’s Hate Etc.,” “Un-Americans Fight Franklin Graham” and also “Sandra Bernhard, Larry David, Kathy Griffin, Bill Maher, Joan Rivers, Sarah Silverman.” Also Google “Islam will purify Jews and Christians” and “Prof. F. N. Lee’s ISLAM IN THE BIBLE [PDF].”
    PS – Since Christians are commanded to ask God to send severe judgment on persons who commit and support the worst forms of evil (see I Cor. 5 and note “taken away”), Christians everywhere should constantly pray that the Lord will soon “take away” or at least overthrow all US leaders (including subversive, America-hating, Jesus-bashing Hollywood shmucks) who continue to sear their conscience, who dangle every unspeakably filthy vice before young people, and who arrogantly trample the God-given rights of the majority including the rights of the unborn. Do we need a second American Revolution?
    PPS – For a rare look at the 181-year-old endtime belief which has long neutralized millions of American patriots by promising them an “imminent rapture” off earth – which has diverted them away from being prepared to stand against all enemies, domestic as well as foreign – Google “Pretrib Rapture Politics,” “Pretrib Rapture Dishonesty,” “Pretrib Rapture Diehards,” “Edward Irving is Unnerving,” “Pretrib Rapture Secrecy,” and “Pretrib Rapture – Hidden Facts” – all by the author of the bestselling nonfiction book “The Rapture Plot” (the most accurate and highly endorsed documentation on the pretrib rapture’s long-covered-up-but-now-revealed beginnings in Britain in 1830 – see Armageddon Books).

  2. You can not have an effective law to limit anti-religious speech when there is also a freedom of religion.

    If there is only one religion allowed you can make blasphemy against that religion illegal. Yes it would be a horrific attack on basic human rights, but it could be done.

    However when you have the freedom to worship anyone and anything, when any notion you can contemplate can be labeled religious dogma you have a problem trying to make anti-religious speech illegal. If anything can be a religion to someone then any speech could be labeled blasphemy.

    What happens if my religion mandates anti-religious speech? If my religion states that any attempt to limit such speech is in fact hate speech against my religion? The very law itself becomes blasphemy.

  3. Mike S, you say, “I get that forgiveness frees ones soul, but perhaps there are certain actions that are simply not forgivable.”

    Well, yeah, but I would like to examine the premise that “foregiveness frees one’s soul.”

    I don’t go for that, not really. To me, what frees one’s soul is the ability to give up feelings that are toxic, not feelings that are just BAD but that should well BE BAD and should not be ignored or even downplayed or “softened.” I think this is an important distinction. I see nothing wrong with hatred, per se; in fact, I think it is very like the self-protective mechanism that makes us feel disgust when we smell certain smells, so that we avoid eating things that can very easily kill us. I think as an individual I must really hate what is very dangerous to me, and the notion that I should try to manipulate my own feelings to somehow “turn the heat down” on that hatred doesn’t fly.

    On the other hand, I know that some HELPLESS feelings of hatred or rage can utterly destroy a person and in that regard, it is sometimes absolutely NECESSARY to decrease the amount of mental and emotional energy we give to the objects of our hatred and even the subjects involved. In other words, there are times when the simple pain of the hatred itself is a motivation needed for survival. To use a terrible fictional example, in the movie “Marathon Man,” there comes a point where the protagonist realizes he has to have a burst of energy in order to confront the life-and-death situation, AND he needs to give up the tender feelings he had for a woman (if I am remembering this correctly) quickly and efficiently. He has a terrible toothache as a result of torture and he has some Anbesol that he keeps applying to his teeth to dull the pain. Then we see him figure out that he needs a certain level of intensity to accomplish his goal (great actor) and he throws away his little vial of painkiller.

    There do come times when one has to give up or distance oneself from certain feelings to move on, of course. My kid had lived with a terrible burden of anger for 9 years when, in 2005, he fell quite ill, and we looked for all sorts of treatment: standard, mainstream, alternative, all of it. We located a psychologist in (of all places) Dallas, Texas, who did something he called “Depth Forgiveness.” It didn’t sound very nice, to me. My kid also didn’t like the “airy fairy sound of it.” But he checked it out and found that it was interesting, and then did two full courses of it. The psychologist, a guy named Steven R. Vazquez, Ph.D., is brilliant! He did tell me that nobody else (before my son) had ever needed two full courses of treatment; he let me pay him off about $20/month and never complained! His theory is quite complex, and it works (anecdotal, yes, but pretty convincing), and I’m not sure there is any “exercise” to the forgiveness other than identifying the “allergen” and recognizing it.

    If we do not insist that some actions (not necessarily “some people”) are unforgivable, I think we cheapen our own moral currency.

  4. A favorite meme in the Muslim fundamentalist world is “the Jews are the descendants of apes and pigs.”

    It had its origins in the hadith, or sayings attributed to the Muslim prophet Muhammad, and is specifically identified with the following Koranic verses:

    ” … They are those whom Allah has cast aside and on whom His wrath has fallen and of whom He has made some as apes and swine…” (5:60);

    “…You have surely known the end of those from amongst you who transgressed in the matter of the Sabbath, in consequence of which we condemned them: Be ye like apes, despised” (2:65);[13] and

    “when, instead of amending, they became more persistent in the pursuit of that which they were forbidden, we condemned them: Be ye as apes, despised” (7:166)..

    Does the President of the United States of America, who went on record while still a senator (in an interview with New England Public Radio) as saying “The Constitution is holding us back… ” propose to officially use his signature on a UN treaty criminalizing “intolerance” to abrogate the First Amendment in this country?

    And will Barack Hussein Obama forbid Muslims in the United States from speaking out about the porcine and simian ancestry of Jews? He had Sam Bacile, producer of “The Innocence of Muslims,” thrown in jail for a probation violation – Mr. Bacile used the Internet in violation of his probation – after blaming the violence in Benghazi on Mr. Bacile’s YouTube video.

    Barack Hussein Obama seems to have strong issues with religious freedom and freedom of speech and assembly – the freedoms Americans have in the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America.

    During the Obama administration, members of the US military became subject to court-martial for demonstrating their religious faith publicly, even when off duty. And under Barack Obama’s administration, public demonstrations where the President happens to be became illegal for the first time in American history.

    The nature of most religions is exclusive – if you believe the precepts of one religion, you necessarily do not believe in other religions which conflict with your religion. Only common courtesy prevents most people from provoking constant quarrels with each other over the situation. But until recently, common courtesy sufficed in most cases to keep the peace.

    George Mason, the Founding Father who agitated and had ratification of the Constitution by the states held up until the Virginia Bill of Rights was written into the Federal Constitution as the “Bill of Rights” – Amendments One through Ten.

    The First Amendment solved the conundrum of personal belief by getting the Federal Government out of the business of regulating religion, speech and free assembly. Americans were left free to speak, worship and assemble as they thought proper.

    It’s ominous that now self-described “liberals” (who Edmund Burke wouldn’t recognize as such) are now the people saying “but no one should have the freedom to shout “Fire!” in a crowded theater!” And conservatives have finally come around full circle to say “of course you should have that right – and other people have the right to say “He’s a liar! There’s no fire!”

    Impeachment is a desperate remedy. It was arguably abused in the case of Bill Clinton, and Richard Milhous Nixon resigned before he could be impeached for obstruction of justice.

    But a President of the United States who is systematically dismantling the Bill of Rights OUGHT to be impeached – because this is a desperate situation which calls for a desperate remedy,

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