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Criminalizing Religious Criticism: UN Resolution Threatens Freedom of Speech

Recently the piece has morphed into Resolution 16/18, the goal of which is “Combating intolerance, negative stereotyping, and stigmatization of, and discrimination, incitement to violence and violence against, persons based upon religion or belief.” Kristin Butler, Crosswalk Contributing Writer  [caption id="attachment_18224" align="alignleft" width="220" caption="censored silence free speech"]censored silence free speechcensored silence free speech[/caption] A new resolution introduced at the United Nations Human Rights Council has free speech advocates concerned about a potential backlash against religious minority groups. Previously introduced as Resolution 62/154, “Combating defamation of religion,” the piece was originally written to criminalize the criticism of religion. Advocates worried that the resolution would, at best, limit freedom of speech, and at worst, jeopardize religious minorities in countries carrying heavy punishments for blasphemy and apostasy. Recently the piece has morphed into Resolution 16/18, the goal of which is “Combating intolerance, negative stereotyping, and stigmatization of, and discrimination, incitement to violence and violence against, persons based upon religion or belief.” But in spite of the seemingly benign language, free speech advocates say there is still cause for concern. According to Jay Sekulow of theAmerican Center for Law and Justice, in some Islamic countries, particularly those with harsh penalties for apostasy and blasphemy, it often doesn't take much for religious minorities to incite extremist rage. "Just the building of churches ... having a cross outside your door can be inciting violence," Sekulow says. "So if you let them define these definitions when there is no problem coming from the minority faiths, this is somehow going to 'green-light' their suppression," he explains. Advocates point to the case of Asia Bibi, a wife and mother who awaits death by hanging in Pakistan after being charged with blasphemy. During a dispute over drinking water, Bibi's Muslim co-workers accused the Christian woman of insulting the Prophet Mohammed – charges that led to her conviction of blasphemy in a Pakistani court. Religious freedom advocates say that religious minorities often bear the brunt of persecution under blasphemy codes in Islamic countries. In Pakistan, Christians, Hindus and other religious minorities comprise only 3 percent of the population of 180 million. Those opposing the resolution say that the countries most heavily lobbying for its passage are those with less than ideal track records for freedom of speech or religious diversity. Jordan Sekulow, Director of Policy and International Operations for the American Center for Law and Justice, says that the countries pushing this resolution are countries whose “populations are 90 to 99 percent one single religious group.” He is concerned that religious minorities in these predominately Muslim countries already face some forms of persecution, and that the passage of this resolution might serve to increase persecution against minority groups. "What is the problem here with the 1 percent speaking out and why is that such an issue that needs to be handled at the international level?" he asks. The Organization of the Islamic Cooperation (OIC) is backing the resolution. Frank Gaffney, president of the American Center for Security Policy, questions the group's goals for the resolution, accusing the group of attempting to promote Sharia, Islamic law, through the passage of the resolution. "It is 57 states and Palestine that have come together to promote what is fundamentally the agenda that is known as Sharia," he says.

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