During the September 25 broadcast of the PBS Newshour, anchor Gwen Ifill invited Council on Foreign Relations President Richard Haass and former U.S. Ambassador Nicholas Burns to discuss President Barack Obama’s foreign policy and his recent address to the UN. Reporter Judy Woodruff also had a segment on the president speech. Yet none of the segments dealing with the address mentioned the fact that the Obama administration has expressed support for anti-blasphemy measures that are completely incongruous with the freedom of speech as protected by the U.S. Constitution.
Woodruff’s segment featured President Obama addressing the UN saying:
The attacks of last two weeks are not simply an assault on America. They're also an assault on the very ideals upon which the United Nations was founded.
If we are serious about these ideals, we must speak honestly about the deeper causes of the crisis, because we face a choice between the forces that would drive us apart and the hopes that we hold in common.
Given the power of faith in our lives and the passion that religious differences can inflame, the strongest weapon against hateful speech is not repression.
It is more speech, the voices of tolerance that rally against bigotry and blasphemy and lift up the values of understanding and mutual respect.
That doesn’t sound like a policy aimed at supporting “more speech” in our civil discourse. You'll recall that the Los Angeles Times reported on September 13 that the Obama administration had flagged the trailer for “Innocence of Muslims” and reported it to YouTube to see if it violated the Terms of Service agreement on the site. As the Times noted, that complaint was filed on September 11, before it was known that Amb. Stevens and three other Americans had been murdered by violent extremists with ties to al Qaeda.
And as John Hayward of Human Events wrote on September 14:
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.”
Patrick Goodenough of our sister organization CNS News wrote back in December of 2011, that “the resolution, an initiative of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), is based on one passed by the U.N.’s Human Rights Council in Geneva last spring [of 2011]. The State Department last week hosted a meeting to discuss ways of ‘implementing’ it.” After all, "U.N. Human Rights Council Resolution 16/18 was negotiated between the Obama Administration and Egypt, a prominent member of the Saudi-championed Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC)."
Obama's critics on this front are not just conservatives. Liberal law professor Jonathan Turley wrote back in October of 2009 in USA Today that:
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.
Hans Bader of the Competitive Enterprise Institute also wrote on September 13 that
the...administration was earlier criticized by legal scholars for effectively endorsing anti-blasphemy legislation. UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh and George Mason University law professor Ilya Somin lamented the Administration’s support for proposals at the United Nations to restrict 'hate speech' against Islam and other religions.
At his inauguration, like all his predecessors, President Obama swore to "preserve, protect, and defend" the Constitution of the United States, including the First Amendment. Actions of his administration that undercut that protection deserve to be covered thoroughly by the media, especially taxpayer-subsidized media like PBS.