EDITORIAL: Ham-handed approach to free speech
Freedom of speech is under attack. It’s more than just well-known repressors such as China and Cuba openly cracking down on the expressions of their people. Far more insidious is the assault that quietly takes place as the political-correctness police convert criticism of certain groups into grounds for arrest.
That happened last month to a 16-year-old boy in West Sussex, England, who allegedly threw pieces of ham at a mosque, causing “real anguish and anxiety” among followers. The United Kingdom’s Criminal Justice and Public Order Act of 1994 condemns anyone who “displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting” vis-a-vis someone’s race, nationality, or ethnicity. The Racial and Religious Hatred Act of 2006 threw “religion” into that mix, but limited it to “threatening words or behavior” and left out “insulting,” to the consternation of the bill’s Labor Party sponsors.
In the United States, the First Amendment keeps hate-speech statutes at bay. The courts consistently have struck down attempts to impose speech codes, and not even a shift of the balance of power on the Supreme Court would change that, in the view of University of California, Los Angeles law professor Eugene Volokh. “I’ve no reason to think new Obama appointees or for that matter the old Obama appointees would vote to restrict such speech. So it’s pretty clearly protected,” he told The Washington Times. That means Uncle Sam often needs to get creative when it wants to engage in speech control.
The low-budget YouTube film “Innocence of Muslims” became the administration’s scapegoat for the deadly Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. By Nov. 7, the film’s creator was sentenced to a year in jail. While none of the criminal charges pertain to the anti-Muslim content of the video, it’s obvious the arrest was intended to serve a political purpose. The father of one of those killed at Benghazi told Fox News that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton had told him in advance that the filmmaker was going to be arrested and prosecuted.
The Obama administration’s zeal in the YouTube matter is consistent with its efforts to promote United Nations Human Rights Resolution 16/18. The resolution urges governments to adopt “measures to criminalize incitement to imminent violence based on religion or belief.” This could be interpreted as criminalizing those who anger violence-prone people by mocking or criticizing their religion. The resolution “deplores” and “condemns” advocacy of “religious hatred,” but it neither deplores nor condemns violence carried out by the easily offended.
At an international “High-Level Meeting on Combating Religious Intolerance” last year, Mrs. Clinton paid lip service to freedom of expression but explained the administration is focused on using “some old-fashioned techniques of peer pressure and shaming” against those who do “what we abhor.” What Mrs. Clinton ought to abhor is ceding the cherished American value of free speech in a vain attempt to curry favor with Islam.
The Washington Times
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