The Third Committee of the UN General Assembly, which focuses on social, cultural and humanitarian issues, recently approved a draft resolution condemning what it calls the defamation of religion. Seventy-six nations voted for the resolution; 64, including the United States, voted against; and 42 abstained. The resolution passed by a margin of 12 votes, 14 fewer than in last year's vote.
The United States had been participating in discussions with the Organization of Islamic States and other sponsors of the resolution to find a solution to the problem of religious intolerance and hatred. But as John Sammis, Deputy U.S. Representative to the Third Committee, explained before the vote, the text of the resolution was not acceptable, and did not get to the heart of U.S. concerns – - the text's negative implications for both freedom of religion and freedom of expression. "The resolution still seeks to curtail and penalize speech," said Mr. Sammis. "Human rights are held by individuals, not by governments, institutions or religions –- and language in the resolution that addresses human rights should reflect this," he said.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed similar concerns during remarks she made at the November 17th release of the State Department's annual International Religious Freedom Report:
"The United States joins in all nations coming together to condemn hateful speech, but we do not support the banning of that speech. Indeed, freedom of speech and freedom of religion emanate from the same fundamental belief that communities and individuals are enriched and strengthened by a diversity of ideas, and attempts to stifle them or drive them underground, even when it is in the name and with the intention of protecting society, have the opposite effect."
"Societies in which freedom of religion and speech flourish are more resilient, more stable, more peaceful and more productive," said Secretary Clinton. "We have seen this throughout history. ... We see it in the world today."