A Heritage Foundation expert warns that the U.S. will need to maintain active opposition to plans for “religious anti-defamation” laws both within its borders and on an international scale, or face consequences.
In a report published on the foundation’s website, Steven Groves said the U.S.
“must remain wary of continuing efforts by U.N. member states to gain
wider acceptance of the ‘defamation of religions’ concept.”
Proponents “will continue to push the ‘defamation of religions’ agenda at the U.N. Human Rights Council, the U.N. General Assembly, and at other international forums such as the April 2009 Durban Review Conference,” he warned.
Groves is the Heritage Foundation’s Bernard and Barbara Lomas Fellow in the Margaret Thatcher
Center for Freedom, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis
Institute for International Studies.
He also said within its own borders, the U.S. should refuse to recognize “a new legal cause of action that bans insults or criticism of religion,” because it would provide no benefit whatsoever.
States already have laws to condemn religious discrimination and prosecute acts of incitement to violence, he argued. The federal government “should tread extremely lightly where disputes over religious doctrine are concerned. The U.S. does not need a national speech code that would restrict the First Amendment rights of Americans, no matter how offensive that speech may be to any particular religious denomination.”
He cited the 2005 attempt by Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., who wanted to require that the Islamic holy book, the Quran, be treated with “dignity and respect.”
“Any attempt to establish a criminal or civil ‘defamation of religions’ law in the United States … must be strongly opposed,” Groves said. “Attempts to introduce such legislation may be incremental – notably, in May 2005, when a group of U.S. congressmen sponsored a resolution,” he said. “Such piecemeal legislation must be closely guarded against.”
The proposal has been presented repeatedly since 1999 from the 57 member nations of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, which adopted the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam. The declaration states “all rights are subject to Shariah law, and makes Shariah law the only source of reference for human rights.
The American Center for Law & Justice, announcing a petition drive to oppose the plan, said, “Around the world, Christians are being increasingly targeted, and even persecuted, for their religious beliefs. Now, one of the largest organizations in the United Nations is pushing to make a bad situation even worse by promoting anti-Christian bigotry.”
The discrimination is “wrapped in the guise of a U.N. resolution called ‘Combating Defamation of Religions,'” the ACLJ said. “We must put an immediate end to this most recent, dangerous attack on faith that attempts to criminalize Christianity.”
In nations following Islam, the present practice is to use such laws to protect Islam and to attack religious minorities with penalties up to and including execution, according to “anti-defamation” opponents. Laws of this kind, the opponents say, already have been used to:
- Summon award-winning author Mark Steyn to appear before two Canadian Human Rights Commissions on vague allegations of “subject[ing] Canadian Muslims to hatred and contempt” for comments in his book, “America Alone.”
- Accuse 15 Pakistanis of blasphemy against Islam during the first four months of 2008.
- Sentence to three years in prison plus 300 lashes a Saudi Arabian teacher “for expressing his views in a classroom.”
- Arrest a blogger in the United Kingdom for “anti-Muslim” statements.
The most recent plan was submitted in March. It specifically cited a declaration “adopted by the Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers” at a meeting in Islamabad “which condemned the growing trend of Islamophobia and systematic discrimination against adherents of Islam.”
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 the statement from Leonard Leo, a public member of the U.S. delegation
to the 61st Session of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights. “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.”
Groves said, “The idea that religious tolerance should be promoted and protected is inexorably intertwined with the founding of the United States and is deeply rooted in American custom. For that reason, American society has successfully assimilated a multitude of religious and cultural traditions over the past several centuries, while nurturing a constitutional framework that allows American citizens to express their thoughts and ideas without unreasonable constraints.
“The U.S. Constitution and Supreme Court jurisprudence protect religious liberty,” he continued, “while promoting tolerance and free speech. The introduction of ‘defamation of religions’ laws would upset the delicate – and successful – balance that has been achieved between the free exercise of religion and free speech, both of which are protected under the First Amendment. Government intrusion into these areas is unwarranted in the absence of a compelling purpose. Protecting the hurt feelings of aggrieved members of particular religious denominations is not one such purpose.”
Groves said the speech ban would violate the U.S. Constitution, but “given the penchant of some federal judges – including justices on the U.S. Supreme Court – to rely on the decisions and opinions of international courts and organizations, the ‘defamation of religions’ effort at the United Nations must be confronted.”
He cited the Bush administration’s efforts to oppose “anti-defamation” plans and called on the new Obama administration to do likewise.