Obama at U.N. in Defense of Free Speech—Sort Of
Speaking at the United Nations this morning, for the first time since anti-American violence erupted in the Middle East on September 11, President Obama found his voice in defense of freedom of expression, American values, and the work of murdered U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens.
Though two weeks too late, it was quite refreshing to hear the President speak out in defense of Americans and American values.
However, Obama proceeded immediately to undermine his own message. What it added up to is this: In the United States, we believe strongly in free speech. But if you—the assembled leaders and potentates of the U.N.—do not, that’s okay with us, too.
Again, the offending YouTube video “The Innocence of Muslims” was the focus of attention:
We understand why people take offense to this video because millions of our citizens are among them. I know there are some who ask why don’t we just ban such a video. The answer is enshrined in our laws. Our Constitution protects the right to practice free speech.
Here in the United States, countless publications provoke offense. Like me, the majority of Americans are Christian, and yet we do not ban blasphemy against our most sacred beliefs. As president of our country, and commander in chief of our military, I accept that people are going to call me awful things every day, and I will always defend their right to do so. [For some reason, this line got huge applause.]
Americans have fought and died around the globe to protect the right of all people to express their views—even views that we profoundly disagree with. We do so not because we support hateful speech, but because our founders understood that without such protections, the capacity of each individual to express their own views and practice their own faith may be threatened.…
I know that not all countries in this body share this particular understanding of the protection of free speech. We recognize that.
What is this supposed to mean? Is it that the U.S. government is actually okay with the repression of a fundamental, universal human right in other countries and plans to do nothing about it? As happens so often happens with President Obama’s speeches, while initially uplifting, the rhetoric loses its luster when it turns out that rhetoric was all it was.
It is also worth pointing out that, while rhetorically defending free speech at the U.N., the Obama Administration has shown little inclination to defend this fundamental principle domestically. Any expression of religion—particularly Christianity—in the public sphere here at home, whether in schools or public institutions, is viciously attacked by the left.
Muslim leaders are reportedly planning to advocate for stronger anti-blasphemy measures during the General Assembly, building upon Human Rights Council Resolution 12/16, which passed in December with the help of the Obama Administration. Nevertheless, this push could present an opportunity for the Administration to take a stand for free speech—if it feels like putting actions behind its words.