Secretary of State says U.S. opposed to restricting speech defaming religion

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the Obama administration opposed restricting free speech by banning defamation of religion but said the U.S. condemns hateful speech. -db

First Amendment Center
November 18, 2010
By Matthew Lee

WASHINGTON. D.C. (AP) — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said yesterday that Islamic nations and others were restricting free speech by attempting to ban statements defaming religion. She declared the Obama administration’s opposition.

Presenting the State Department’s annual international survey of religious freedom, Clinton said the U.S. would oppose efforts at the United Nations to condemn the defamation of religion even if they are intended to protect society.

“Some people propose that to protect religious freedom, we must ban speech that is critical or offensive,” she said. “We do not agree. The United States joins with all nations coming together to condemn hateful speech. But we do not support the banning of that speech.”

As it has in past years, the 56-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference is pushing a resolution at the U.N. General Assembly that condemns “religious defamation” — this time after winning approval at the U.N. Human Rights Council. The General Assembly adopted the resolution in 2009 despite objections from the U.S. and other Western nations.

The resolution is nonbinding and largely symbolic, but can provide justification in some countries for tougher domestic laws against defamation. The effort is widely seen as a response to the publication in Europe of cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad and to anti-Muslim stereotyping.

Clinton said the pending resolution hurt religious freedom and denied societies the benefits of diverse views, opinions and faiths.

“Attempts to stifle them or drive them underground, even when it is in the name of and with the intention of protecting society, have the opposite effect,” she said. “Societies in which the freedom of religion and speech flourish are more resilient, more stable, more peaceful and more productive.”

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