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Int'l commissioners: Guard dignity & freedom

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
WASHINGTON (BP) -- Three members of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom have set forth guiding principles "to move forward" in the wake of an anti-Islam video that resulted in both violence and various calls for speech restrictions in the Muslim world.

The USCIRF commissioners -- chairman Katrina Lantos Swett and vice chairman Mary Ann Glendon, as well as Robert George -- underscored the need for defending human dignity and promoting freedom of expression in an opinion piece for Roll Call, a Capitol Hill newspaper.

"Hatred and vilification of people and their communities on account of their beliefs is an offense to our common humanity," the USCIRF commissioners wrote. "We must counter it, not by surrendering precious rights or committing brutal violence, but through a ringing affirmation of freedom, unleashing the power of our pen, the truth and justice of our words, and the strength of our unity, as we combat the darkness of inhuman hatred together."

In September, Muslims in numerous countries reacted to a trailer on YouTube of the movie "Innocence of Muslims" with protests that sometimes turned violent and with calls for the movie's censorship. They criticized the video as a mockery of Islam's prophet, Muhammad.

At the time, there appeared to be two major reactions to the video -- responses rejected by "countless" Muslims and non-Muslims, the USCIRF commissioners wrote in their Oct. 25 op-ed.

"First, there were those who insisted that acknowledging its offensiveness to Muslims necessarily amounted to appeasement of those who commit violent acts or demand speech restrictions," they wrote. "Second, there were others who asserted that robust condemnation of the violence or unwavering defense of the right of freedom of expression must imply insensitivity to Muslims."


Those who believe all human beings have equal dignity and rights "recoil at attempts to denigrate the faith of others," Swett, Glendon and George wrote. "They are driven by a passion to defend, rather than a desire to appease."

Defenders of equal rights for all consistently defend others, they said.

"While it is impossible to protest against every incident that offends believers, they are willing to stand together with people of all beliefs against those who wound and humiliate through images and words. Consistency is a strong antidote to an appeasement charge," the commissioners wrote.

At the same time, they said, "it is not insensitive to recognize that hateful images and words, while detestable, are an outcome of the right of freedom of expression. Not only is that freedom a pivotal human right unto itself, it is difficult to uphold the freedom to practice one's religion without also allowing the freedom to express one's beliefs."

It also is not insensitive "to condemn any and all violence perpetrated in the name of any religion as the ultimate assault on human dignity," they wrote. "Rather, to remain silent or to proffer excuses for the violence is to betray the vast majority of Muslims and non-Muslims who abhor the shedding of blood. Being silent demoralizes efforts against violent radicals seeking to hijack faith."


Swett is president of the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice. Glendon is a law professor at Harvard University and a former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican. George is professor of jurisprudence at Princeton University.

USCIRF is a nine-member commission that advises the White House, State Department and Congress on the status of religious freedom overseas. The president and congressional leaders select the commissioners.

Compiled by Baptist Press Washington bureau chief Tom Strode. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook ( ) and in your email (

Copyright (c) 2012 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press

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