Why would President Obama sign legislation that could criminalize certain religious speech and thought in the United States, and at the same time, take steps to safeguard Muslim hate speech internationally?
The answer is that Obama would rather play politics with our sacred right to free speech than protect it at all costs. Two recent events illustrate this clearly.
First, Obama helped pass and signed the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which would add homosexuals and transsexuals to the list of über-protected citizens under federal hate crimes law. The act passed as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act. In other words, a vote against the hate crimes bill would have been a vote against funding our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. (And Congress wonders why its approval rating plumbs new depths daily.)
The bill criminalizes any speech that incites hatred leading to violence against any of the special classes of citizens (homosexuals, transsexuals, etc.) protected under the law. Democrats, however, point to a provision in the bill that they say specifically protects “a person’s exercise of religion, speech, expression, or association” as proof the bill doesn’t eviscerate the First Amendment. This is intentionally misleading.
The bill’s provision in its entirety reads: “Nor shall anything in this division. . . be construed or applied in a manner that substantially burdens a person’s exercise of religion, speech, expression, or association, unless the Government demonstrates that application of the burden to the person is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest and is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest. (Emphasis mine)
Wow. That is a big “unless.” And what constitutes “substantially.” The bill actually says that your right to freedom of speech, thought, and religion is still sacred. . . unless the government decides it isn’t.
How might this play out in practice? Say someone assaults a gay person, and it’s determined that the perpetrator is an avid fan of Rush Limbaugh. And it’s then discovered that Limbaugh recently had been railing against hate crimes legislation, or gay marriage, or another gay issue. Limbaugh could be prosecuted under this law if the government determined there is a “compelling interest” to do so. The same scenario holds true for a Christian preacher who speaks out against homosexuality. Or anyone with the public’s ear.
American voters aren’t too keen on the hate crimes bill, according to a recent Zogby International/O’Leary Report Poll. (The Poll surveyed 3,544 voters, was conducted Oct. 23-26, and has a margin of error of 1.7 percentage points). The poll asked:
The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed a “Hate Crimes” bill that would make assault based on sexual orientation or perceived gender identity a felony. As it is currently the written, the bill would also allow the prosecution of people whose speech allegedly influences others to commit hate crimes. Some experts believe this could lead to serious infringements on free speech, as well as the prosecution of religious preachers, talk show hosts or political activists who speak against homosexuality or transsexuals. Others say the bill is an effort to try and stop people from committing such crimes in the future. Do you agree or disagree with the Hate Crimes bill?
A plurality of Americans (47 percent) disagree with the hate crimes bill, while only 38 percent agree with it. A majority of independent voters (55 percent) disagree with the bill, and just 29 percent agree with it. Fifty-eight percent of small business owners disagree with the hate crimes bill, while only 30 percent agree with the bill.
While Obama evidently thinks that Christian speech deserves special, government-enforced limitations, he thinks Muslim speech deserves special safeguards from any criticism. As George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley recently reported in USA Today, “While attracting surprisingly little attention, the Obama administration supported the effort of largely Muslim nations in the U.N. Human Rights Council to recognize exceptions to free speech for any ‘negative racial and religious stereotyping.’”
Specifically, Obama helped Egypt pass a long-sought U.N. resolution that, although toothless, encourages governments worldwide to clamp down on free speech that is used to criticize or “blaspheme” religion. It is widely regarded as coup for Muslims worldwide who have grown weary of others pointing out how their religion seems to foment hatred for Jews, women, and yes, even gays. It is also viewed as a “transparent bid,” Turley reports, “to appeal to the ‘Muslim street’ and our Arab allies.”
But who would dare accuse Obama of breaking a few free speech eggs in his floundering quest to make a peace omelet? The American electorate, according to the same Zogby/O’Leary Poll, which asked:
The Obama administration recently supported and helped pass a United Nations resolution that suggests nations exclude certain criticisms of religion from free speech protection. Do you support or oppose an international law that protects religions from criticism?
A strong majority of American voters (59 percent) oppose any international law that protects religions from criticism, while only 21 percent support such a law. Strong majorities of Independent voters (65 percent), young voters age 18-29 (66 percent), and small business owners (71 percent) also oppose a law that removes free speech protections in order to guard religions from criticism. Fifty-one percent of union members and Hispanics oppose such a law, while only 26 percent and 35 percent, respectively, would support it. Pluralities of both Democratic voters (43 percent) and Obama voters (45 percent) also oppose such a law, while just 30 percent from each group support it.
Our Founding Fathers gave us the First Amendment to protect all speech, no matter the content, and no matter the political inconvenience such speech might pose to the ruling party in Washington.
According to President Obama, however, the right to free speech is little more than a political pawn — manipulated as easily here at home to curry favor with anti-Christian groups as it is abroad to curry favor with Muslim fanatics.
Brad O’Leary is publisher of The O’Leary Report, a best-selling author, and a former "NBC Westwood One" talk show host. His book, “Shut Up, America! The End of Free Speech,” is now in bookstores and available at www.EndOfFreeSpeech.com.
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