U.S. Leads Effort to Criminalize Free Speech (GateStone Institute) by Ann Snyder 05/16/12)
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It is puzzling that the West was so easily duped into believing that
dropping the "defamation of religion" language was any kind of
victory. The OIC´s agenda can be implemented instead through "hate
speech" laws that already exist. Our Secretary of State applauded the
OIC, and far from demanding a "reservations clause" of any kind, the
United States sponsored a three-day, closed-door meeting in
Washington D.C., on implementing the resolution.
The Human Rights Council concluded its nineteenth session on March
23, 2012 and adopted, without a vote, yet another resolution aimed at
restricting freedom of speech throughout the world. While its title
, as usual, suggests it is about combating intolerance based on
religion, its plain language shows that, once again, speech is the
One of its sponsors, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation
(formerly the Organization of the Islamic Conference or "OIC" ), has,
for over a decade, introduced speech-restrictive resolutions at the
United Nations. In the past, these resolutions contained explicit
language about "defamation of religions." Last year, however, when
the OIC introduced Resolution 16/18 without the term "defamation of
religions," the West´s resistance to the OIC´s efforts faltered
(discussed here). The "defamation of religions" concept had been easy
for Western countries to rally against, in part, because it seemed to
attach rights to a concept (here, religion) rather than to
individuals. But, dropping that term was little more than a cosmetic
change leaving speech-targeting language behind and the OIC´s speech-
restrictive agenda intact.
Resolution 19/25, like 16/18, specifically "condemns" certain types
of speech and "urges States to take effective measures as set forth
in the present resolution, consistent with their obligations under
international human rights law, to address and combat such
incidents." (emphasis added) In short, it is an explicit call to
action for states to curtail certain types of speech.
The "advocacy" (read: speech) that the resolution "condemns" and
calls on states to limit is "any advocacy of religious hatred against
individuals that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility
or violence" using "print, audio-visual or electronic media or any
other means." This language almost directly parallels International
Covenant of Civil and Political Rights Article 20(2), which
reads: "Any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that
constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall
be prohibited by law."
At the time Article 20 was being debated, there was little doubt that
it was about limiting speech; and indeed, concerns were raised about
the potential for abuse of the provision to limit an essential right.
Further, when the United States finally ratified the ICCPR in 1992,
it did so with an explicit reservation to Article 20, reading: "That
Article 20 does not authorize or require legislation or other action
by the United States that would restrict the right of free speech and
association protected by the Constitution and laws of the United
The language of ICCPR Article 20 and Resolutions 16/18 and 19/25
bears a striking resemblance to the "hate speech" provisions that
have proliferated throughout Europe and that are already being used
to silence speech (as the trials of Geert Wilders, Lars Hedegaard,
and others demonstrate).
Further, conceptually, "defamation of religions" and "hate speech"
were already linked in prior resolutions. It is puzzling, therefore,
that the West was so easily duped into believing that dropping
the "defamation of religions" language was any kind of substantive
victory. Although the most recent resolutions stop short of Article
20´s language, leaving out "shall be prohibited by law," it hardly
matters. The OIC´s agenda can simply be pushed instead through "hate
speech" laws that already exist. (By its own statements, the OIC has
not changed its goals, nor has it abandoned the concept.) The shift
in wording has simply lost us allies in resisiting it.
That a resolution without an explicit reference to "defamation of
religions" but that retained "hate speech" language would be more
appealing to European allies is not surprising. Most European
countries have already adopted some form of "hate speech" laws -- but
to terrible effect -- on freedom of speech. With regard to this
issue, the United States had stood alone—"hate speech" is currently
not proscribed here, although we appear headed in that direction:
since the United States supported the resolution, how could we expect
our Western allies to resist?
Our Secretary of State applauded the OIC and described efforts
leading to Resolution 16/18 as beginning "to overcome the false
divide that pits religious sensitivities against freedom of
expression." Far from demanding a "reservations clause" of any kind,
the United States, instead, sponsored a three-day, closed-door
meeting in Washington, DC last December on implementing 16/18 —a
meeting in a series called the "Istanbul Process." Taking its lead
from the US, the European Union then offered to host the next
session, an initiative the OIC hailed as a "a qualitative shift in
action against the phenomenon of Islamophobia."
In short, a mere cosmetic change in a resolution has resulted in a
radical shift in the West´s—and specifically United States´ and
therefore Europe´s —policy toward the OIC´s efforts to restrict free
If we do no wake up quickly, recognize the implications of that
policy shift, and reverse course, this "mere" cosmetic change may
result in a radical shift in the protections for freedom of speech in
the United States.
Ann Snyder serves as a Senior Fellow of The Legal Project, an
activity of the Middle East Forum.
 "Combating intolerance, negative stereotyping and stigmatization
of, and discrimination, incitement to violence and violence against,
persons based on religion or belief"
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