Human Events Blog

The constitutional sacrilege of blasphemy laws

The L.A. Times confirms an astonishing rumor flying around the Internet on Friday morning, concerning the Obama Administration’s willingness to serve Muslim rioters as the enforcement arm of unwritten blasphemy laws: “In a sign of the tensions the movie has sparked, Los Angeles County officials said the U.S. State Department had asked them not to release copies of the film permits [for “The Innocence of Muslims”] containing information about who organized the shoot.  Obama administration officials also flagged the trailer to YouTube and asked the company to review whether it violated the website’s terms of service.

A limit to free speech has been established, and the Administration is willing to help foreign powers enforce it.

This is not an entirely new development.  The Heritage Foundation recalls that “As recently as December 19, 2011, the U.S. voted for and was instrumental in passing ‘U.N. Resolution 16/18’ against ‘religious intolerance,’ ‘condemning the stereotyping, negative profiling and stigmatization of people based on their religion.’ While this may sound innocuous, it was the latest incarnation of a highly controversial ‘anti-blasphemy’ resolution that has been pushed by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) at the United Nations since 1999.”

This concept of global “blasphemy laws,” to which the Obama Administration is very obviously not hostile, is a long-cherished goal of Islamic supremacists.  It is also Constitutional sacrilege.  The version supported by this President and his people contains a few rhetorical flourishes toward freedom of speech: “We must denounce offensive speech whenever we encounter it – but our commitment to universal principles makes clear that faith must never be a crime and religion must never be used as an excuse to stifle freedom of expression,” as U.S. ambassador at large Suzan Johnson Cook put it.

But once the principle of free speech is compromised in this way, everything that follows is merely haggling over the price of liberty… and angry mobs ready to murder and pillage over perceived offenses will always be more aggressive negotiators than thin-blooded bureaucrats, whose superiors worry primarily about getting through the next news cycle with their approval ratings intact.  We are watching religion being used “as an excuse to stifle freedom of expression,” with the cooperation of the Obama Administration, right before our eyes.  The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was even dispatched to tell a nutty pastor in Florida to think more carefully before he exercises his freedom of speech.

Say what you will about that pastor, Terry Jones, but he has a far better grasp of the spirit of the First Amendment that Barack Obama does.  “Our problem is how far and when do you back down.  Once you start moving backwards it’s very easy to continue moving backwards,” Jones mused.  How come nobody in Obama’s bloated State Department apparatus seems to understand that?

Notice also the conflation of the two principles contained in Ambassador-at-Large Cook’s formulation: “We must denounce offensive speech whenever we encounter it – but our commitment to universal principles makes clear that faith must never be a crime and religion must never be used as an excuse to stifle freedom of expression.”  Criticism, and even unpleasant mockery, of a religion does not suppress the exercise of that faith.  It most certainly does not turn faith into a crime.  Nothing Terry Jones or the makers of “Innocence of Muslims” say about Islam will prevent a single faithful worshipper from praying in a single mosque.

But what about Jones’ religious freedom?  The signals being sent by this Administration could make any church he visits into a very dangerous place.  The mobs are receiving plenty of signals that their use of violence is effective, as the supposedly lofty principles of the West land on the auction block with a thud.  Why not push even harder, and see what they can get?

The proper business of the American executive does not involve deciding what free speech is offensive and denouncing it.  We have obscenity laws, but they are laws, written by American legislators and adjudicated in American courts.  We don’t suddenly decide something is obscene because a foreign mob says so.  We shouldn’t be declaring anything “blasphemous” on that basis, either.

This evolving concept of blasphemy law brings yet more power to the centralized State, which is one reason why Big Government leftists formerly noted for grave concern over free-speech violations are so comfortable with it.  Obviously, someone will have to decide which blasphemous speech is unacceptable.  All entreaties for censorship will not be measured equally.  The complaints of aggrieved Mormons, Lutherans, Catholics, or Hindus will never be taken as seriously as the demands of violent mobs armed with guns, knives, and rocket-propelled grenades.

The concept of “unalienable rights” has been under heavy assault lately.  Now our freedom of speech has become alienable.  A generation ago, we argued over the rights of Nazis to march in Skokie, Illinois.  “I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it!” was the battle cry.

Now we’re allowing a sham effort by sinister forces in the Middle East to present a movie very few people have actually seen – the YouTube videos under assault are its trailers – as the cause of coordinated attacks to drag us into an agonizing debate over how much freedom of speech we should be prepared to give up.  That was the essence of Mitt Romney’s supposedly “controversial,” but now utterly vindicated, criticism of the behavior of the U.S. embassy in Cairo.  We’re not supposed to retreat into a defensive crouch when our way of life comes under attack.  Our first response should not include offers of appeasement.  We shouldn’t even considering the “points” raised by angry mobs at all, only denouncing their violence and defending both American principles and personnel with irresistible force.

Barack Obama swore an oath to defend the United States Constitution… not just the parts he likes, and not just when it’s convenient for him.  Is he capable of fulfilling that oath, or not?

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