The Obama Administration has now actually co-sponsored an anti-free speech resolution at the United Nations. Approved by the U.N. Human Rights Council last Friday, the resolution, cosponsored by the U.S. and Egypt, calls on states to condemn and criminalize “any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence.”
What could be wrong with that? Plenty.
First of all, there’s that little matter of the First Amendment, which preserves Americans’ right to free speech and freedom of the press, which are obviously mutually inclusive. Any law that infringed on speech at all — far less in such vague and sweeping terms — would be unconstitutional.
“Incitement” and “hatred” are in the eye of the beholder — or more precisely, in the eye of those who make such determinations. The powerful can decide to silence the powerless by classifying their views as “hate speech.” The Founding Fathers knew that the freedom of speech was an essential safeguard against tyranny: the ability to dissent, freely and publicly and without fear of imprisonment or other reprisal, is a cornerstone of any genuine republic. If some ideas cannot be heard and are proscribed from above, the ones in control are tyrants, however benevolent they may be.
Now no less distinguished a personage than the President of the United States has given his imprimatur to this tyranny; the implications are grave. The resolution also condemns “negative stereotyping of religions and racial groups,” which is of course an oblique reference to accurate reporting about the jihad doctrine and Islamic supremacism — for that, not actual negative stereotyping or hateful language, is always the focus of whining by the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) and allied groups. They never say anything when people like Osama bin Laden and Khaled Sheikh Mohammed issue detailed Koranic expositions justifying violence and hatred; but when people like Geert Wilders and others report about such expositions, that’s “negative stereotyping.”
But we still have the First Amendment, right? Legal expert Eugene Volokh, in an excellent analysis of the resolution, explains why it isn’t that easy to dismiss this. “If the U.S. backs a resolution that urges the suppression of some speech,” he explains, “presumably we are taking the view that all countries — including the U.S. — should adhere to this resolution. If we are constitutionally barred from adhering to it by our domestic constitution, then we’re implicitly criticizing that constitution, and committing ourselves to do what we can to change it.” He adds that in order to be consistent, “the Administration would presumably have to take what steps it can to ensure that supposed ‘hate speech’ that incites hostility will indeed be punished. It would presumably be committed to filing amicus briefs supporting changes in First Amendment law to allow such punishment, and in principle perhaps the appointment of Justices who would endorse such changes (or even the proposal of express constitutional amendments that would work such changes).”
Last year the Secretary General of the OIC chief Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu issued a warning: “We sent a clear message to the West regarding the red lines that should not be crossed” regarding free speech about Islam and terrorism. And he reported success: “The official West and its public opinion are all now well-aware of the sensitivities of these issues. They have also started to look seriously into the question of freedom of expression from the perspective of its inherent responsibility, which should not be overlooked.”
For the first time, an American President has bowed to the OIC’s demands and taken cognizance of that “responsibility” — after years in which George W. Bush resisted such initiatives at the UN.
In October 2008, I wrote this in Human Events about early signs that Barack Obama had no great love for the freedom of speech: “If candidate Obama is willing to have people arrested when they say things about him that he doesn’t like, will President Obama have the vision or courage or understanding to stand up against the OIC when it demands restrictions on freedom of speech at precisely the same time that he wants to build bridges to the Islamic world and demonstrate his power to restore hope and bring change to old stalemated conflicts?”
The answer is in. The answer is no.