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Clinton Criticizes Religious Defamation Laws as UN Prepares to Vote

ICC Note:

The Obama administration opposes anti-defamation laws because they would restrict free speech.

By Sarah Pulliam Bailey

10/29/09 USA (ChristiantyToday)–International religious freedom observers mostly praised Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s opposition to anti-defamation policies because such restrictions would limit free speech.

The United Nations General Assembly is expected to vote soon on a pending anti-defamation resolution sponsored by the Organization of the Islamic Conference.

“Some claim that the best way to protect the freedom of religion is to implement so-called anti-defamation policies that would restrict freedom of expression and the freedom of religion,” Clinton said at a press conference on Monday. “I strongly disagree.”

“The protection of speech about religion is particularly important since persons of different faiths will inevitably hold divergent views on religious questions,” Clinton said. “These differences should be met with tolerance, not with the suppression of discourse.”

Experts consider the UN anti-defamation effort mostly a reaction to the 2005 publication of cartoons in a Danish newspaper that depicted the prophet Muhammad. Carl Moeller, president of Open Doors USA, is lobbying against the resolution this week because he fears people could be criminalized for converting from Islam or speaking against Islamic teachings.

“The United States is making an unequivocal statement while defining the rights of individuals versus religious beliefs,” Moeller said. “You cannot provide a religious belief system the same level of protection that you do for a human.”

Clinton made her remarks while releasing the State Department’s annual report on international religious freedom, which highlighted several countries “where violations of religious freedom have been noteworthy” over the last year: Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Brunei, Burma, China, Cuba, Egypt, Eritrea, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Laos, Malaysia, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Vietnam, and Yemen.

But in some of those countries have also seen positive developments, the report said. Following Clinton’s remarks, Assistant Secretary Michael Posner used China as one example.

“One of the encouraging things to me in China is that there is a growing, rapidly growing Christian community,” Posner said. “A percentage, but not a majority, are in churches recognized by the state. But somewhere between 50 and 90 million people practice Christianity in unrecognized churches that are not registered in many cases. And so what we’re trying to do is encourage the Chinese Government to recognize and allow people of faith, of various faiths, to practice.”

Thomas Farr, the first director of the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom, praised Clinton’s remarks and the report but called for more policy specifics.

“The report is excellent in identification of the problem. Where it’s uneven and often quite weak is in describing U.S. policy in solving those problems,” Farr said. “For example, we should be working with the Chinese not only to pressure them to stop persecution, but advancing religious freedom through the academy, the law—the mechanisms that are important to the Chinese.”

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