U.S. says free speech is the best protection for religious dignity

September 25, 2012

(A rally in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, to show support for the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro’s right to build a new mosque in the city. Sept 2010/Brian Stansberry)

The United States told a UN human rights body on Monday it considered freedom of religion inseparable from free expression, countering calls from many Islamic countries for a treaty outlawing blasphemy.

After two weeks of protests around the Muslim world over an online film mocking the Prophet Mohammed, Ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe told the UN Human Rights Council that religious dignity is best protected where there is free speech.

“The inseparable freedoms of expression and religion are important not for abstract reasons,” she told the Geneva body in an unscheduled intervention as world leaders arrived in New York for a General Assembly where some were expected to call for action against blasphemy.

Donahoe said that when the two freedoms were allowed to flourish, “we see religious harmony, economic prosperity, societal innovation and progress, and citizens who feel their dignity is respected.”

“When these freedoms are restricted, we see violence, poverty, stagnation and feelings of frustration and even humiliation,” she said.

Last week, the 56-nation Organisation of Islamic Cooperation signaled it wanted an international ban on blasphemy, echoing calls from many Islamic clerics and some government leaders adter the film, made with private money in the United States, sparked widespread anti-Western protests.

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