- The Washington Times - Friday, October 3, 2008

DEFENDING FREE SPEECH

Advocates of free speech and religious liberty Thursday denounced the latest efforts at the United Nations to impose what they call “blasphemy laws” on critics of Islam.

“An anti-defamation law is a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” said Kevin Hasson, founder and president of the Washington-based Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. “In passing these resolutions, the United Nations is damaging its credibility in the name of protecting hurt feelings.”

The Becket Fund announced the formation of the Coalition to Defend Free Speech along with representatives from the American Jewish Congress, American Values, Freedom House, the International Quranic Center and the Rutherford Institute and Morton Halperin of the Center for American Progress, who served in the Johnson, Nixon and Clinton administrations, and Floyd Abrams, honorary chairman of the coalition and a widely respected free speech lawyer.

As Washington Times U.N. correspondent Betsy Pisik first reported in September, the Bush administration, European governments and international religious rights groups are mounting a joint effort to defeat a U.N. General Assembly resolution called “Combating Defamation of Religion.”

Although the resolution is not a law, it provides diplomatic cover for repressive regimes to arrest and intimidate religious dissenters or critics. Many Muslim countries have laws against defaming Islam, and some prohibit the conversion to another religion. The U.N. resolution is sponsored by the 57-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference and has been passed on an annual basis since 2005.

Mr. Halperin said the resolution contradicts the U.N. Charter and is “part of a worldwide campaign to create international blasphemy laws.”

“[The resolution is] an assault on free speech and the free exercise of religion, couched in the diplomatic language of tolerance and respect,” he said.

“It’s nothing but a gussied-up blasphemy law, and blasphemy laws ultimately hurt everyone and all believers because they implicitly empower governments to decide which religious truth is right or wrong.”

Mr. Abrams, noted for his First Amendment cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, denounced the resolution as a “strike at the heart of core principles of freedom of expression.”

MAOIST MINISTER

Every week, Washington hosts dozens of foreign policy forums, but rarely does a former communist rebel now serving in a democratically elected government come to visit.

Baburam Bhattarai, once the second in command of Maoist rebels in Nepal and now the finance minister, will address invited guests next week at the Sigur Center for Asian Studies at the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University.

Mr. Bhattarai, who holds a doctorate degree from Jawaharlal Nehru University in India, is author of books with titles like “The Nature of Underdevelopment and Regional Structure in Nepal: A Marxist Analysis.”

One of his professors, S.D. Muni, once referred to him as an “uncompromising ideologue and leader.”

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