In USA Today, liberal law professor Jonathan Turley is criticizing the Obama administration for endorsing a “blasphemy” exception to free speech: “Around the world, free speech is being sacrificed on the altar of religion. Whether defined as hate speech, discrimination or simple blasphemy, governments are declaring unlimited free speech as the enemy of freedom of religion. This growing movement has reached the United Nations, where religiously conservative countries received a boost in their campaign to pass an international blasphemy law. It came from the most unlikely of places: the United States.”
Granted, blasphemy may be patently offensive to significant numbers of people, but it is precisely such hard cases for which First Amendment protection is most important. Consider the fate of those unfortunate enough to live in countries without such protections. (Note: Some readers may find the following examples shocking.)
Religious minorities have often been persecuted for “blasphemy” in Islamic countries for disagreeing with Islam, or interpreting Islam’s holy book, the Koran, differently than the majority of Muslims do. Turley says that Western blasphemy cases have included the arrest of a Dutch cartoonist for depicting a Christian fundamentalist and a Muslim fundamentalist as zombies who want to marry and attend gay rallies; the investigation of an Italian comedian for joking at a rally that in 20 years, the Pope will be in hell, tormented by gay devils; the exclusion of a Dutch politician from Britain because he made a movie describing the Quran as a “fascist” book and Islam as a violent religion; and the prosecution of writers in Austria, India, and Finland for calling Mohammed a “pedophile” because of his marriage to 6-year-old Aisha (which was consummated when she was 9).
Earlier, conservatives and civil libertarians criticized the Obama administration for endorsing restrictions on so-called “hate speech” at the United Nations. The administration is backing proposals to classify hate speech as a violation of international human rights law. Left-wing lawyers are now likely to argue that these proposals constitute “customary international law” binding on the U.S., as a consensus interpretation of treaties the U.S. has already signed, like the CEDAW equal rights treaty. The U.S. courts are unlikely to accept such arguments in the near future, although if Obama manages to appoint enough left-wing judges, the chances of such arguments prevailing will increase.
In Canada, hate speech laws have been used to punish ministers for anti-gay sermons. In the U.S., college hate-speech codes have been used to discipline students for criticizing affirmative action, defending the death penalty against racism charges, and calling homosexuality immoral. Ironically, hate speech laws have often been used against minorities in the Third World, with prosecutors arguing that advocating the rights of minorities is an inflammatory form of racial separatism.
Left-wing lawyers claim that “customary international law” dictates a host of controversial requirements that few countries would voluntarily adopt on their own, like mandating quota-based affirmative action. For example, the CEDAW equal-rights treaty has been construed by an international committee as requiring “redistribution of wealth,” “affirmative action,” “gender studies” in academia, government-sponsored “access to rapid and easy abortion,” “comparable worth,” and “the application of quotas and numerical goals and measurable targets aimed at increasing women’s political participation.”
The UN is quite hostile to human rights, as is its “Human Rights Council,” which has included genocidal dictatorships among its members. The U.N. recently declared Fidel Castro, the longtime Communist dictator of Cuba, a “World Hero.” Castro killed thousands and thousands of people during his rule, torturing some to death (including a few American citizens), and Cuba remains an oppressive dictatorship even today.
While advocating bans on hate speech, the Obama administration has turned a blind eye to hate speech and hate crimes by its allies and supporters. It turned a blind eye to voter intimidation by the New Black Panther Party, which is a racist, anti-Semitic hate group that backed Obama and included an Obama poll-watcher and Democratic Party official in Philadelphia. It was silent about the violent, racially-charged SEIU assault on a black conservative critic of Obama’s health care proposals. The administration and its allies use the SEIU as shock troops at town hall meetings, and Obama recently appointed a high-ranking SEIU official, Craig Becker, to the NLRB. (The SEIU is closely linked with, and even overlaps with, the controversial group ACORN, which gave Obama his start, and whose affiliate received $800,000 from his campaign. ACORN was recently involved in a high-profile scandal promoting underage prostitution.)
While turning a blind eye to hate and prejudice from the Left, the administration has backed a bill in Congress, now virtually certain to become law, that will allow some people found innocent of hate crimes in state court to be reprosecuted all over again in federal court, taking advantage of a loophole in Constitutional protections against double jeopardy.