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Governments -- Don't "Inflexibly Cling[] To Free Speech ... With Absolute Disregard for Religious Feelings":

From what is apparently the Preliminary Document of the African Regional Conference Preparatory to the Durban [Anti-Racism] Review Conference — Draft proposal submitted by South Africa [i]n its capacity as coordinator of the group of African countries accreddited to the United Nations Office at Geneva:

We, the African Regional Conference, having met in Abuja from 24 to 26 August 2008 in the framework of the review of the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance held in Durban, South Africa, in 2001, hereby issue the following Declaration and Programme of Action:

13. Calls upon States to avoid inflexibly clinging to free speech in defiance of the sensitivities existing in a society and with absolute disregard for religious feelings; ...

On top of that, the Conference:

11. Reiterates strongly that freedom of religion or belief, freedom of opinion and expression, and non discrimination are interdependent, and stresses the need to strengthen the process of effectively adjudicating cases associated with incitement to religious hatred under article 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights [which mandates that "Any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence and other analogous instruments" "shall be prohibited by law"] ...

14. Reiterates that it is critical for Governments and the judiciary to ensure that acts that constitute incitement under article 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights are closely monitored and do not enjoy impunity;

15. Urges the Human Rights Committee to clarify the scope and content of article 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights with the aim, among other things, of defining an appropriate threshold for enacting relevant legislation;

16. Also urges States, as a matter of priority: ...

(c) To pay special attention to the political use of discrimination and xenophobia, notably the ideological and electoral permeation of racist and xenophobic platforms into the programmes of democratic parties; ...

20. Calls upon States to pay attention to the serious nature of incitement to religious hatred, such as anti-Semitism, Christianophobia and, more particularly, Islamophobia, and to promote the fight against those phenomena by strengthening interreligious and intercultural dialogue concerning the common ethics of all religions;

21. Calls also upon States to wage a systematic campaign against incitement to racial and religious hatred and to respect the complementarity of all the freedoms embodied in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; ...

(Source: UN Watch, echoed by Canadian Jewish News; thanks to Religion Clause (Prof. Howard Friedman) for the pointer.)

The push for the new anti-blasphemy laws is alive and well. After all, "religious feelings" must be protected, and incitement of "hostility" to religions must be prohibited — only those who "inflexibly cling[] to free speech" can think otherwise.

ejo:
channeling Oren, we have evangelicals like Palin who want libraries to ban books in this country, even books not yet published. How can we even presume to address these issues when we have unclean hands. Until our own house is perfect, we must ignore these transgressions.
9.17.2008 2:28pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
Why 'particularly Islamophobia'?

Are not the majority Islamic countries (no matter what the form of their governments) the least even-handed in their treatments of the various religions?
9.17.2008 2:33pm
John (mail):
The trouble with all this is that one person's religious freedom is usually some one else's serious problem.

If your religion requires you to discriminate against Jews, then are you free to practice your religion or not? And can anyone criticize you? Freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and freedom from discrimination all conflict with each other, and the quoted material does not say which principle comes ahead of which other. Without such a ranking, the document seems to be self-contradictory.
9.17.2008 3:07pm
one of many:
Well it is nice to see them take such a strong pro-Israel stance, I doubt it is worth the cost to restricted speech. So what sanctions are they proposing that Britain should levee against it University and College Union and how strongly should Saudi Arabia punish the Wa'habists?

On a more serious note, is this just an admission by religious types that religion cannot compete in a free marketplace of ideas?
9.17.2008 3:18pm
Obvious (mail):
First it was guns and religion. Now it's free speech. Frankly, there are only so many things I can cling to at any one time...
9.17.2008 3:21pm
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
I wish we would cling to free speech a lot more than we actually do. (Maybe it's because we are too busy clinging to guns and religion.)
9.17.2008 3:23pm
Steve P. (mail):
Obvious - you must not be bitter enough.
9.17.2008 3:26pm
ejo:
any second thoughts as to whether welcoming sharia into the West, only in certain areas of course, will impact on our free speech rights in any way?
9.17.2008 3:27pm
Scote (mail):
I'm still unsure how these blasphemy laws are supposed to work in a pluralistic society comprised of mutually exclusive religions. Just reading the tenet's of Islam out loud is blasphemy to Christianity. Likewise, the New Testament to Judaism.

The tenets of one's religion are blasphemy to a person of another, mutually exclusive religion. So these anti-blasphemy laws are automatically untenable in a pluralistic society and the mere idea of proposing them is juvenile and just downright idiotic.

My first thought "Oh, did you widdle religious feewings get hurt? Tough! Grow Up!"
9.17.2008 3:41pm
Bill Poser (mail) (www):

Why 'particularly Islamophobia'?


This is a tacit admission that the problem is not freedom of speech, it is Islam.
9.17.2008 4:18pm
Soronel Haetir (mail):
Perhaps the only useful thing put forward by this group is the request for clarification.
9.17.2008 4:19pm
Bill Poser (mail) (www):

it is nice to see them take such a strong pro-Israel stance


Hunh? I must have missed that. What is this in reference to?
9.17.2008 4:19pm
David Warner:
Dilan,

"I wish we would cling to free speech a lot more than we actually do. (Maybe it's because we are too busy clinging to guns and religion.)"

How about we cling to the Bill of Rights and kill three birds with one stone?
9.17.2008 4:42pm
Opher Banarie (mail) (www):
Would some more fabric softener in the rinse cycle help with all the cling problems?
9.17.2008 4:52pm
Max:
This babbling verbiage is a typical product of the U.N.: professing to advance high-minded ideals while stifling discussion, dissent, and reason.
9.17.2008 4:53pm
JBL:
If I were in charge of enforcing the document, I would simply note that "inflexible" does not mean "dogmatic" or "unreasonable". And that "absolute disregard for religious feelings" is actually a very narrow requirement.

But I'm not optimistic that's the interpretation it will get.
9.17.2008 4:53pm
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
How about we cling to the Bill of Rights and kill three birds with one stone?

Well, if you mean we should cling to our gun rights and religious freedoms (including as well the freedom to not own guns and to not practice religion) as well as our speech rights, I agree.
9.17.2008 4:57pm
one of many:
it is nice to see them take such a strong pro-Israel stance


Well if criminal sanctions are being recommended against "[a]ny advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence and other analogous instruments" it would seem pretty obvious that Israel would be a big beneficiary. One could argue that they are only restricting themselves to the religious part of the 3 criteria (as they suggest) and this excludes Israel. Article 20 does not distinguish between the 3 types of hatred, and the mechanism proposed to protect religion is to improve enforcement of Art.20. Thus, strengthening protection of religion through Art.20 would result in a huge gain for Israel as it would encompassing all 3 types of hatred. It is more than a little bit of snark.
9.17.2008 5:01pm
h Tuttle:

we have evangelicals like Palin who want libraries to ban books in this country, even books not yet published. How can we even presume to address these issues when we have unclean hands. Until our own house is perfect, we must ignore these transgressions.



What a bloviating canard wrapped in a ridiculous coating of creamy illogic and topped with fatuous sprinkles.
9.17.2008 5:05pm
ejo:
Scote, I absolutely agree. I believe you should take the next plane to Saudi Arabia and make just that point on the nearest intersection to the airport.
9.17.2008 5:45pm
wfjag:
Is the Declaration all that different than way Canada's Human Rights Act has been applied? The CHRA is used to protect certain ideas and speech and suppress others.

From www.nationalpost.com/news/canada/story.html?id=792277 "Web expands hate speech law: expert", Monday, Sept. 15, 2008:


***
In an exchange Monday with a government lawyer, Mr. Hadjis said Section 13 of Canada's Human Rights Act, which was written to target the operators of racist telephone hotlines, and extended to the Internet after the 9/11 terror attacks, now captures "anyone who puts the written word down in digital form," including countless bloggers and the entirety of the mainstream press.

"It has an effect on the citizens of Canada who may be near that line [of hate speech] but not crossing it," Mr. Hadjis said. These people can nevertheless find themselves "dragged through the process" of a human rights complaint, he said.
***

Section 13 applies to messages "likely to expose" an identifiable group to hatred or contempt.

The foremost legal precedent for deciding these cases is the 1990 Supreme Court of Canada decision about the neo-Nazi activist John Ross Taylor, in which Section 13 was held to be a justifiable violation of the Charter right to free expression.

It defined hate messages as those expressing "unusually strong and deep-felt emotions of detestation, calumny and vilification."

Simon Fothergill, a lawyer for the Attorney-General of Canada, said Mr. Lemire's challenge of Section 13 is "relitigation" of settled law, and amounts to "harassment" of the government, which won the Taylor case by a 4-3 decision. A decade later, in 2001, it amended Section 13 to include the Internet.
***
Mr. Fothergill answered that if Section 13 puts a chill on public discourse, it is only to be around the fringes of hate speech, and that this is not "a terribly bad outcome."

"A little bit of chilling ... is tolerable," he said.


Since VC is available to Canadians via the internet, are VC bloggers and commenters subject to the CHRA? I know that it hasn't been tried, but assertions of extra-territorial jurisdiction over persons and their actions are becoming more common. If you support the idea that Germany has jurisdiction over a former US SECDEF for "war crimes", is there any objection to the Canadian HRC having jurisdiction over you for "hate speech" for comments on the web? What's "a little bit of chilling" when self-rightous people determine whose rights should be suppressed?


When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.


-- Pastor Martin Niemöller
9.17.2008 6:08pm
ejo:
but, I see no reason to be concerned about bringing these international norms into our courtrooms. Even if they affect our interpretations of other amendments, it is simply impossible that some jurist in the future might somehow interpret our first amendment looking to international norms for pointers.
9.17.2008 6:38pm
Yankev (mail):

Well, if you mean we should cling to our gun rights and religious freedoms (including as well the freedom to not own guns and to not practice religion) as well as our speech rights, I agree.
Dilan, you left out the right not to speak.
9.17.2008 6:44pm
Martinus (mail) (www):
Other countries claim to have "free speech," but most do not if you actually look under the surface. They have crap like this declaration guiding them, shutting up anyone who exercises free speech in an unpopular manner.

I'm all for tolerance and equality, but in America you're free to say whatever you damn well please (even things that may seem "stupid" to the majority), and that's what made us the greatest nation on Earth for so long.

If America wants to stay great, we need to stop trying to be like the rest of the world, and be Americans again.
9.17.2008 6:55pm
whit:

channeling Oren, we have evangelicals like Palin who want libraries to ban books in this country,


this has already been debunked, not to mention that a library choosing not to carry a book/periodical doesn't make it BANNED. i am pretty sure my local library does not carry hustler, or any # of publications by aryan nations, stormfront, holocaust deniers, etc.

and what martinus said. a simple comparison of our speech rights to canada, the UK, germany, france, etc. shows that we ARE different. we value free speech rights over "civility" (the excuse given in canada for banning offensive "hate speech"), "sensitivity", etc.

and it's true. you certainly cannot have freedom of religion or free speech if you have laws such as this. you can't simultaneously protect religious expression AND criminalize espousing that certain ideas/actions are evil or unnatural or a sin or whatever.

i'm not aware of any nation that has the extent of freedom of speech that we have. are you?
9.17.2008 8:09pm
Scote (mail):
"this has already been debunked, not to mention that a library choosing not to carry a book/periodical doesn't make it BANNED. i am pretty sure my local library does not carry hustler, or any # of publications by aryan nations, stormfront, holocaust deniers, etc. "

Lo and behold, it has not been debunked. Even as a city councilwoman Sarah Palin personally sought to ban books from the library.

From the NYT:

But in 1995, Ms. Palin, then a city councilwoman, told colleagues that she had noticed the book "Daddy's Roommate" on the shelves and that it did not belong there, according to Ms. Chase and Mr. Stein. Ms. Chase read the book, which helps children understand homosexuality, and said it was inoffensive; she suggested that Ms. Palin read it.

"Sarah said she didn't need to read that stuff," Ms. Chase said. "It was disturbing that someone would be willing to remove a book from the library and she didn't even read it."
9.17.2008 10:02pm
Mike G in Corvallis (mail):
Lo and behold, it has not been debunked. Even as a city councilwoman Sarah Palin personally sought to ban books from the library.


Scote, I believe you have jumped to an unwarranted conclusion. To a librarian there is a big difference between banning a book from the library and removing it from the shelves. In the latter case it's still in the library, in the catalog, and available on request. In other words, "not banned."
9.18.2008 12:34am
Harry Eagar (mail):
Why drag Palin in? There are plenty of other Americans who DO want to ban books and publications of all sorts.

Not all are evangelical Christians, either.

My assessment, as a newspaperman for over 40 years, is the only reason we have free speech is that those who would ban speech hate each other even more than they dislike me.

Same with freedom of religion.
9.18.2008 1:03am
one of many:
My assessment, as a newspaperman for over 40 years, is the only reason we have free speech is that those who would ban speech hate each other even more than they dislike me.


Thanks M. Eagar, I like that one. I hope it's wrong however, because indica are that the media is becoming more hated and if you are accurate then we are looking at a loss of free speech.
9.18.2008 1:13pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
I'm prejudiced, but I don't think the press is more hated by more people that it used to be. As far as I can tell, its about the same proportion of hyperventilating hyperpartisans as always. They just have a forum to bray in now that they didn't use to have.

About 1,200 daily papers are small (depending upon where you put the cutoff), and I can tell you that the No. 1 complaint at every one of them is that the sports department gives unfair coverage to the high school the complainant did not attend.
9.19.2008 12:40am