Support for a United Nations proposal that critics contend would be used to ban criticism of Islam, censor the message of Jesus Christ and attack and kill Christians and members of other faiths is plunging, according to the newest vote totals.
A resolution has been pending in one form or another since 1999 and originally was called “Defamation of Islam.” The name later was changed to “Defamation of Religions,” but Islam remains the only faith protected by name in the proposal.
It is being sought by the 57 members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference to “protect” Islam from what OIC members perceive as “criticism,” which could include anything referencing Christianity since that could be considered a challenge to the beliefs of Muslims.
The latest vote on the nonbinding proposal came as the U.N. headed into the weekend, with 80 votes in favor of the proposal, 61 against and 42 abstentions. The results show support declining from the 86 yes votes a year ago and the 108 yes votes from two years ago.
Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, has been working to raise the world’s awareness of the implications of the plan for several years. He’s especially concerned that the ultimate goal appears to be a binding action by the U.N.
“For several years now, we have been working to oppose this resolution and this afront to religious freedom,” he said in a blog posting shortly after the vote. ‘During that time, we have seen a dramatic decline in support for this resolution.
He saw today’s vote as “a very encouraging sign.”
“What this tells us is that our message is getting through,” he said. “A growing number of nations around the world understand that this resolution is unacceptable – that it is harmful, not helpful, to preserving religious liberty and freedom. We will continue to work on this issue and to educate more nations about the dangers of this resolution and encourage them to vote against it.”
Lindsay Vessey, advocacy director for Open Doors USA, an international Christian ministry operating in many Islamic states, previously told WND that U.N. human rights provisions always have focused on individuals, but the concept of protecting a religion would give authoritarian governments virtually unrestrained power to attack individuals whose message they don’t like.
“It would legitimize national blasphemy laws in countries that are actually going to persecute religious minorities, such as Pakistan and Afghanistan,” she said.
Open Doors President Carl Moeller recently published a commentary describing what could happen under the proposal.
“The United Nations is once again on the verge of introducing a resolution that goes against everything the world body supposedly stands for. A successful resolution would actually undermine the religious liberty and personal safety of Christians and members of other faiths,” he wrote.
He contended the resolution would “silence words or actions that are deemed to be against a particular religion, and that religion is Islam. While the stated goal seems relatively innocuous – blocking defamation of people’s deeply held religious beliefs – in practice the statement is used to silence those whose only crime is to believe in another faith, or no faith at all.”
He said the OIC is the driving force behind the plan and noted, “The OIC’s goal is anything but peaceful.”
He cited Leonard Leo of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, who described the resolution as an attempt to create a “global blasphemy law.”
“From the right to worship freely to the ability to tell others about Jesus Christ, the Defamation of Religions Resolution (previously called the ‘Defamation of Islam’ resolution) threatens to justify local laws that already restrict the freedom of Christians [and other religious minorities],” Moeller said.
When such laws are adopted locally, he said, they are used to bring criminal charges against individuals for “defaming, denigrating, insulting, offending, disparaging and blaspheming Islam, often resulting in gross human rights violations.”
In August, Muslim extremists rampaged for several days through the Christian community in Gojra, Pakistan, he said. Seven Christians were killed, 19 injured and more than 100 homes looted.
The violence was sparked by “an unsubstantiated rumor of ‘blasphemy.'”
The U.N. resolution would make such cases more numerous and worse when they occur, he said.
WND also recently reported on the U.S. sponsorship – along with Egypt – of a separate plan at the United Nations that purportedly would protect free speech.
Vessey said the move was an effort on the part of the U.S. to advocate for free speech in a way that would defuse the threat of “defamation” proposals. However, critics of the resolution said even that would be a failure.
Steven Groves of the Heritage Foundation told WND the issue is not about free speech at all but about enacting international precedents to stifle any criticism of Islam – the same goal as the defamation proposal.
Referring to the plan to “protect” speech, Groves said it would conflict with the First Amendment, which “protects free speech and expression, even when speech is offensive or insulting. Moreover, a religious ‘speech code’ would disrupt the assimilation of religious minorities that has occurred throughout U.S. history and could breed resentment rather than understanding among America’s religious communities.”
Sekulow has criticized the “defamation” plan itself for inciting discrimination.
“The proclamation of the Gospel in Muslim countries has been called incitement of religious discrimination,” he told WND. “The Universal Declaration of Human rights protects free speech.”
“‘Incitement’ and ‘hatred’ are in the eye of the beholder – or more precisely, in the eye of those who make such determinations,” he continued. “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.”
Eugene Volokh, who teaches free speech law, criminal law, tort law, religious freedom law and other subjects at UCLA, and also founded the Volokh Conspiracy weblog, said the First Amendment protection of speech in the United States isn’t so secure all of a sudden.
“If the U.S. backs a resolution that urges the suppression of some speech, presumably we are taking the view that all countries – including the U.S. – should adhere to this resolution,” he said.
“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 said.
The administration, he opined, 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).”
The 57 member nations of the Organization of the Islamic Conference have lobbied since 1999 for the “anti-defamation” plan, which is based on the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam. The Cairo declaration states “that all rights are subject to Shariah law and makes Shariah law the only source of reference for human rights.”
The U.S. State Department also has found the proposal unpalatable.
“This resolution is incomplete inasmuch as it fails to address the situation of all religions,” said a statement from Leonard Leo. “We believe that such inclusive language would have furthered the objective of promoting religious freedom. We also believe that any resolution on this topic must include mention of the need to change educational systems that promote hatred of other religions, as well as the problem of state-sponsored media that negatively targets any one religion.”