The "defamation of religions" movement, which is led in the United Nations by the 56-member Organization of the Islamic Conference, urges the condemnation of messages that defame religions and can lead to violence. Such a measure approved by a U.N. body earlier this year cited only Islam as a specific target and urged countries to protect "against acts of hatred, discrimination, intimidation and coercion resulting from defamation of religions and incitement to religious hatred in general."
The new statement endorsed by the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) and others says the "defamation of religions" concept is "incompatible with the fundamental freedoms of individuals to freely exercise and peacefully exercise their thoughts, ideas and beliefs." Such resolutions, the statement says, "punish the peaceful criticism of ideas" and do not protect the rights of individuals as affirmed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, one of the U.N.'s founding documents.
"Defamation of religions" resolutions undergird laws in some countries that prohibit blasphemy and are used to oppress religious or political beliefs that are out of favor with the government, according to the statement. The document makes no direct reference to Islam, though some Muslim-dominated states enforce anti-blasphemy laws.
"It is vitally important for governments to combat violence motivated by bias and hatred and to encourage respectful speech and civil dialogue, while at the same time affirming that freedom of expression and freedom of thought, conscience and religion are integral to the health of free societies and the dignity of the human person," says the statement, which was officially released Nov. 10.
In addition to the ERLC, the 103 signers include the American Center for Law and Justice, Baptist World Alliance, Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, Anti-Defamation League, American Jewish Congress, American Islamic Congress, American Islamic Forum for Democracy, Open Doors, ChinaAid, Concerned Women for America, Advocates International, The Rutherford Institute, Center for Religious Freedom at the Hudson Institute and the American Humanist Association.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed her disapproval of the "defamation of religions" movement Oct. 26, saying, "ome claim that the best way to protect the freedom of religion is to implement so-called anti-defamation policies that would restrict freedom of expression and the freedom of religion. I strongly disagree."
The American experience shows "the best antidote to intolerance is not the defamation of religion's approach of banning and punishing offensive speech but, rather, a combination of robust legal protections against discrimination and hate crimes, proactive government outreach to minority religious groups and the vigorous defense of both freedom of religion and expression," Clinton said.
The U.N. General Assembly is expected to consider a "defamation of religions" resolution in December, CNSNews.com reported.
The U.N. Human Rights Council adopted in March a "defamation of religions" resolution with a plurality, not a majority, of its 47 members in support. The non-binding resolution named Islam alone as an object of defamation.
The new document, "A Common Statement From Civil Society on the Concept of the 'Defamation of Religions,'" may be accessed online at www.whatisdefamationofreligion.com.
Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.
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