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U.S. Embassy Favors Religious Feelings over Free Speech, Attacked Anyway
by Nina Shea
The U.S. Embassy in Cairo has posted on its homepage a special message for 9/11 today. Its only purpose is to condemn what they call "religious incitement." While calling for religious harmony is understandable and welcome, this short statement goes much further: It essentially upholds the Muslim anti-blasphemy standard that the Egyptian government applies in its ban on "insult to heavenly religions," and that has long been championed by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in U.N. resolutions calling for the universal criminalization of religious defamation and in its campaign against all forms of "Islamophobia." Most U.N. member-states supported these OIC resolutions, but, year in and year out over a decade, the United States has opposed them.
The U.S. embassy redefines and limits freedom of speech to that speech which others, and, explicitly Muslims, do not find offensive: The embassy asserts that to "hurt the religious beliefs of others" is to "abuse the universal right of free speech." Of course, the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment protects even insulting and offensive speech, as well as "hate speech" and even advocacy of violence, unless the advocacy is directed to inciting imminent and likely violence (see the 1969 Supreme Court case Brandenburg v. Ohio). The First Amendment does not uphold the heckler's veto — that is, expression does not lose its protection because the listener objects, even violently objects, to it. The embassy's statement implies that U.S. First Amendment rights conflict with the "universal right of free speech," and that the latter should take precedent.
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