Coalition to Defend Free Speech Promises to “Raise Public Awareness” and “Have an Impact”

From the website of the Becket Fund:

The United Nations General Assembly, now in session in New York, is about to take up another “defamation of religion” resolution, which is another step toward criminalizing peaceful speech.Originally proposed by Pakistan and the Organization of the Islamic Conference in 1999, a U.N. resolution condemning the “defamation of Islam” evolved into resolutions opposing the “defamation of religions.” Meant to curtail speech that some find offensive, the resolutions have the effect of stifling religious debate and discussion.

I’ve blogged on some of these efforts, here and here. The Becket Fund is now part of a “Coalition to Defend Free Speech” in opposition to religious anti-defamation laws:

“An anti-defamation law is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. In passing these resolutions, the United Nations is damaging its credibility in the name of protecting hurt feelings,” said [Becket Fund president Kevin] Hasson. “It is nothing but a gussied-up blasphemy law, and blasphemy laws ultimately hurt everyone and all believers, because they implicitly empower governments to decide which religious truth is right or wrong.”Coalition Honorary Chair Floyd Abrams, the nation’s preeminent free speech and free press advocate, agreed.

Alas, however, the Coalition so far hasn’t managed to put together a website, and beyond a few platitudes dispensed at a lunchtime National Press Club meeting details of what exactly it intends to do are somewhat vague. The Forward has a bit of extra detail from the Coalition’s honorary chair,  free-speech advocate Floyd Abrams:

“We want to raise public awareness and have an impact at home and abroad,” Abrams told the Forward. “Will this persuade the Muslim world? No. But it’s important for organizations to speak out, for instance, vis-à-vis the new U.S. administration.”

Is that it? The Forward gives more background to the Coalition’s background:

…It comprises the American Jewish Congress and the International Quranic Center; conservative groups such as Freedom House, American Values, the Becket Fund and The Rutherford Institute, and such liberal figures as former Clinton administration senior official Morton Halperin and prominent lawyer Floyd Abrams…

Promoters of the coalition are eager to avoid being branded as part of a Jewish and/or neoconservative effort to attack Muslims, especially given the central role the AJCommittee played in cobbling together the coalition over the past year.

Several free speech advocacy groups and leading liberal-leaning human rights groups, such as the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch, in fact have declined to join the coalition. “We have lots of trouble getting liberal groups who care a lot about free speech on board,” Abrams admitted. But he added that the promoters are still hopeful that some will join the effort, and that Jewish groups will do so as well, though none has yet been asked to do so.

Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, said the decision was not a political one.

“We’re fully on board with respect to the issue, but we rarely join coalitions of these kinds when the plan is to issue joint statements, since we find that we spend endless time editing and negotiating text without any commensurate reward,” he told the Forward.

In another unencouraging sign, a press release about the Coalition misspells the “Becket Fund” as the “Beckett Fund”.

One Response

  1. I think first we need to try to universalize free speech laws between nations that have them.

    Some countries assert that legal entities other than individuals like corporations and churches, have free speech rights equal to those of citizens. Some draw a distinction between these. Some assert that money is equivalent to speech, others do not. Some recognize a “right to receive,” others don’t. Concepts of obscenity and material not covered by free speech vary hugely from one part of the world and even from town to town.

    Any global discussion of limiting free speech is both fruitless and dangerous until we get a worldwide handle on what free speech really is in the first place.

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