The Obama Administration and Freedom of Speech
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
The Founding Fathers left no doubt which freedoms they held most important. They inserted them into the First Amendment to the Constitution. Freedom of speech and of the press come right after freedom of religion. These freedoms, and all the others set forth in the Constitution, are the birthright of all Americans and a precious example to the rest of the world. That is why I am bemused by the manner in which the Obama administration appears to be indifferent to attempts to undermine freedom of speech and of the press at the UN.
“The new resolution, championed by the Obama administration, has a number of disturbing elements. It emphasizes that “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.” It also purports to “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.”
“Pakistan’s Ambassador Zamir Akram, speaking on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, made it clear that they understand the resolution and its protection against religious stereotyping as allowing free speech to be trumped by anything that defames or negatively stereotypes religion. The idea of protecting the human rights “of religions” instead of individuals is a favorite of those countries that do not protect free speech and which use religion–as defined by government–to curtail it. “
Here is the text of the Resolution. Putting on my lawyer hat I can think of no regime of government censorship that could not be justified under the terms of the Resolution. I’ll take the First Amendment, with its stark simplicity, “Congress shall make no law…” any day.
Ms. Bayefsky ends her article with these words:
In 1992 when the United States ratified the main international law treaty which addresses freedom of expression, the government carefully attached reservations to ensure that the treaty could not “restrict the right of free speech and association protected by the Constitution and laws of the United States.”
The Obama administration’s debut at the Human Rights Council laid bare its very different priorities. Threatening freedom of expression is a price for engagement with the Islamic world that it is evidently prepared to pay.