Opponents say real goal is crackdown on Christians, members of other faiths
By Bob Unruh
A resolution pending in the United Nations in one form or another since 1999 is being pushed again by the Islamic nations that originally proposed the plan they called “Defamation of Islam,” which would ban criticism of the beliefs of Muhammad worldwide.
The proposal, sought by the 57 members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, now has be renamed “Defamation of Religions,” but officials with Open Doors, an international Christian ministry operating in many of those Islamic states, is warning about its potential impact.
Now, lobbying for the resolution has resumed among decision-makers at the U.N., according to Lindsay Vessey, the advocacy director for Open Doors who traveled this week to New York in opposition to the plan.
If fully implemented, the resolution would ban “criticism” of religions worldwide.
But Vessey told WND the real agenda was revealed by the original title of the resolution, “Defamation of Islam,” which would “criminalize people who criticize a religion.”
U.N. human rights provisions always have focused on individuals, but the concept of protecting a religion would give authoritarian governments virtually unrestrained power to attack individuals whose message they don’t like, she said.
“It would legitimize national blasphemy laws in countries that are actually going to persecute religious minorities, such as Pakistan and Afghanistan,” she told WND.
Vessey said Open Doors is working with other organizations to reach out to delegates of many nations to explain the dangers and build opposition. The group also is promoting a petition opposing the plan on its website.
Open Doors President Carl Moeller recently published a commentary describing what could happen under the proposal.
“The United Nations is once again on the verge of introducing a resolution that goes against everything the world body supposedly stands for. A successful resolution would actually undermine the religious liberty and personal safety of Christians and members of other faiths,” he wrote.
In fact, he said the resolution would “silence words or actions that are deemed to be against a particular religion, and that religion is Islam. While the stated goal seems relatively innocuous – blocking defamation of people’s deeply held religious beliefs – in practice the statement is used to silence those whose only crime is to believe in another faith, or no faith at all.”
He said the OIC as the driving force behind the plan and noted, “The OIC’s goal is anything but peaceful.”
He cited a comment from Leonard Leo of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, who described the resolution as an attempt to create a “global blasphemy law.”
“From the right to worship freely to the ability to tell others about Jesus Christ, the Defamation of Religions Resolution (previously called the ‘Defamation of Islam’ resolution) threatens to justify local laws that already restrict the freedom of Christians [and other religious minorities],” Moeller said.
When such laws are adopted locally, he said, they are used to bring criminal charges against individuals for “defaming, denigrating, insulting, offending, disparaging and blaspheming Islam, often resulting in gross human rights violations.”
In August, Muslim extremists rampaged for several days through the Christian community in Gojra, Pakistan, he said. Seven Christians were killed, 19 injured and more than 100 homeslooted.
The violence was sparked by “an unsubstantiated rumor of ‘blasphemy.'”
The U.N. resolution will make such cases more numerous and worse when they occur, he said.
Vessey said the move was an effort on the part of the U.S. to advocate for free speech in a way that would defuse the threat of “defamation” proposals. However, critics of the resolution said even that would be a failure.
Steven Groves of the Heritage Foundation told WND the issue is not about free speech at all but about installing international precedents to stifle any criticism of Islam – the same goal as the defamation proposal.
Referring to the plan to “protect” speech, Groves said it would conflict with the First Amendment, which “protects free speech and expression, even when speech is offensive or insulting. Moreover, a religious ‘speech code’ would disrupt the assimilation of religious minorities that has occurred throughout U.S. history and could breed resentment rather than understanding among America’s religious communities.”
Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice as well as the European Centre for Law and Justice, which has been involved in fighting “defamation of religion” plans at the U.N., said the “free speech” resolution itself “incites discrimination.”
“The proclamation of the Gospel in Muslim countries has been called incitement of religious discrimination,” he told WND. “The U.S. backing of this is a mistake. The Universal Declaration of Human rights protects free speech.
“I am very concerned the U.S. is co-authoring something like this,” he said.
The U.N. General Assembly has approved a “defamation of religions” resolution in each of the three sessions from 2005 to 2007. The text always has been similar, and it always has had major support from Islamic nations with opposition from Western democracies, including the U.S.
“‘Incitement’ and ‘hatred’ are in the eye of the beholder – or more precisely, in the eye of those who make such determinations,” he continued. “The powerful can decide to silence the powerless by classifying their views as ‘hate speech.’ The Founding Fathers knew that the freedom of speech was an essential safeguard against tyranny: the ability to dissent, freely and publicly and without fear of imprisonment or other reprisal, is a cornerstone of any genuine republic. If some ideas cannot be heard and are proscribed from above, the ones in control are tyrants, however benevolent they may be.”
Eugene Volokh, who teaches free speech law, criminal law, tort law, religious freedom law and other subjects at UCLA, and also founded the Volokh Conspiracy weblog, said that the First Amendment protecting speech in the United States isn’t so secure all of a sudden.
“If the U.S. backs a resolution that urges the suppression of some speech, presumably we are taking the view that all countries – including the U.S. – should adhere to this resolution,” he said.
“If we are constitutionally barred from adhering to it by our domestic constitution, then we’re implicitly criticizing that constitution, and committing ourselves to do what we can to change it,” he said.
The administration, he opined, would “presumably be committed to filing amicus briefs supporting changes in First Amendment law to allow such punishment, and in principle perhaps the appointment of justices who would endorse such changes (or even the proposal of express constitutional amendments that would work such changes).”
The 57 member nations of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference have lobbied for the “anti-defamation” plan, which is based on the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam, since 1999. The Cairo declaration states “that all rights are subject to Shariah law, and makes Shariah law the only source of reference for human rights.”
The U.S. State Department also has found the proposal unpalatable.
“This resolution is incomplete inasmuch as it fails to address the situation of all religions,” said a statement from Leonard Leo. “We believe that such inclusive language would have furthered the objective of promoting religious freedom. We also believe that any resolution on this topic must include mention of the need to change educational systems that promote hatred of other religions, as well as the problem of state-sponsored media that negatively targets any one religion.”