Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Monday that the United States opposes an effort by Muslim nations at the United Nations to ban religious “defamation,” because the proposal would conflict with freedom of speech.
“Based on our own experience, we are convinced that the best antidote to intolerance is not the defamation of religions’ approach of banning and punishing offensive speech, but rather a combination of robust legal protections against discrimination and hate crimes, proactive government outreach to minority religious groups and the vigorous defense of both freedom of religion and expression,” Mrs. Clinton told reporters.
She made her comments while unveiling the State Department’s annual report on international religious freedom.
A pending resolution before the U.N. General Assembly sponsored by the 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) is to be voted on in mid-November.
The effort has gained momentum since the 2005 publication by a Danish newspaper of editorial cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad.
Mrs. Clinton said: “Religion provides a cornerstone for every healthy society. It empowers faith-based service. It fosters tolerance and respect among different communities, and allows nations that uphold it to become more stable, secure and prosperous.”
The United States and many European nations fear the anti-defamation resolution will protect religion at the expense of freedom of speech and worship, which are guaranteed by the U.N. Charter.
Christian groups fear the resolution could endanger the lives of worshippers living abroad. Israel says it rejects the resolution, as do many human rights organizations.
Some worry that an endorsement by the United Nations would legitimize laws that have been used to punish Christian worship in nations such as Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
The latest anti-defamation text is expected to closely follow a similar resolution introduced last year.
The earlier resolution said: “We are concerned the instances of intolerance, discrimination and acts of violence against followers of certain faiths occurring in many parts of the world.”
It also criticized what it called “the negative projection of certain religions in the media” and it cited as victims people of “certain ethnic and religious backgrounds, particularly Muslim.”
Last year’s resolution was approved by the General Assembly after a public give-and-take, in which the OIC agreed to include Christian and Jewish believers to even out the language.
This year’s State Department report placed China, Eritrea, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan among the worst violators of religious liberties.
Leonard Leo, chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, praised the report as providing a base line for U.S. policy.