Foreign Policy

U.S. Agrees With Egypt on Limiting Free Speech on Religion

| by Reason Foundation

by Radley Balko

Jonathan Turley's op-ed in USA Today casts some deserved scorn on the Obama administration for helping push through a UN resolution that lends support to theocratic governments who punish people for criticizing religion.

While attracting surprisingly little attention, the Obama administration supported the effort of largely Muslim nations in the U.N. Human Rights Council to recognize exceptions to free speech for any "negative racial and religious stereotyping."...

The Egyptian ambassador to the U.N., Hisham Badr, wasted no time in heralding the new consensus with the U.S. that "freedom of expression has been sometimes misused" and showing that the "true nature of this right" must yield government limitations. His U.S. counterpart, Douglas Griffiths, heralded "this joint project with Egypt" and supported the resolution to achieve "tolerance and the dignity of all human beings." While not expressly endorsing blasphemy prosecutions, the administration departed from other Western allies in supporting efforts to balance free speech against the protecting of religious groups. Thinly disguised blasphemy laws are often defended as necessary to protect the ideals of tolerance and pluralism. They ignore the fact that the laws achieve tolerance through the ultimate act of intolerance: criminalizing the ability of some individuals to denounce sacred or sensitive values. We do not need free speech to protect popular thoughts or popular people. It is designed to protect those who challenge the majority and its institutions. Criticism of religion is the very measure of the guarantee of free speech — the literal sacred institution of society.

Turley then ticks off a litany of recent blasphemy prosecutions the resolution would ostensibly support, including a British teen charged for insulting Scientology, an Italian comedian prosecuted for insulting the Pope, and prosecutions in Austria, India, and Finland for calling Mohammed a pedophile. As Turley explains, the UN resolution is only symbolic. But the Obama administration deserves condemnation for aligning itself with religious sensitivity and religious extremists over free expression.

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Reason has covered this issue before, including the U.K.'s banishment of Dutch politician Geert Wilders and Ezra Levant's battle with Canada's human rights commissions over his publication of Muhammed cartoons in the Western Standard.