This is one of those stories I have not seen mentioned in any major, independent mass-media outlets, and it’s not for lack of searching (using tools such as Google, Yahoo, Bing, and AOL News, and other online journalism searches). The one exception to this has been an op-ed piece by Jonathan Turley, which appeared in USA Today. Otherwise, this news has only appeared in Right-wing oulets such as the Weekly Standard. I’m not sure why this has gone unreported, but it has.

At any rate, Turley writes in the USA Today On Religion blog:

Perhaps in an effort to rehabilitate the United States’ image in the Muslim world, the Obama administration has joined a U.N. effort to restrict religious speech. …

Around the world, free speech is being sacrificed on the altar of religion. Whether defined as hate speech, discrimination or simple blasphemy, governments are declaring unlimited free speech as the enemy of freedom of religion. This growing movement has reached the United Nations, where religiously conservative countries received a boost in their campaign to pass an international blasphemy law. It came from the most unlikely of places: the United States.

While attracting surprisingly little attention, the Obama administration supported the effort of largely Muslim nations in the U.N. Human Rights Council to recognize exceptions to free speech for any “negative racial and religious stereotyping.” The exception was made as part of a resolution supporting free speech that passed this month, but it is the exception, not the rule that worries civil libertarians.

In the process, the Obama administration has found an unlikely ally … the repressive Egyptian regime:

In the resolution, the administration aligned itself with Egypt, which has long been criticized for prosecuting artists, activists and journalists for insulting Islam. For example, Egypt recently banned a journal that published respected poet Helmi Salem merely because one of his poems compared God to a villager who feeds ducks and milks cows. The Egyptian ambassador to the U.N., Hisham Badr, wasted no time in heralding the new consensus with the U.S. that “freedom of expression has been sometimes misused” and showing that the “true nature of this right” must yield government limitations.

Turley goes on to cite a litany of recent cases of “blasphemous” speech that has been repressed in many otherwise-enlightened places, including Canada, the Netherlands, and the UK. I offered the following comment appended to this USA Today blog entry:

“The only purpose that laws against blasphemy serve, is to propagate immaturity on the part of believers. These laws give them the illusion that their beliefs are impervious to criticism … which is simply not rational. Rather than infantilizing believers by shielding religions from critique, we should instead send the message that believers ought to grow up, accept that there are people in the world who do not believe as they do, and steel them for that reality.

“If the Islamic world … or any other … is not mature enough to withstand criticism, the solution is not to abolish the criticism, but instead, for it to grow up. This will, no doubt, be a challenge, but it is one that is for the best. Continuing to infantilize Muslims, or any other kind of believer, serves no useful purpose. Encouraging them to grow up, will.

“Personal note: As a non-believer, I consider ALL religions and viewpoints about religion to be ‘fair game’ for critique. This includes even secular notions such as atheism and agnosticism, not to mention other recent metaphysical ideas such as New Age, neopaganism, and so on. All alike should be open to critique. We can ill afford to give the upper hand to those who aren’t mature enough to endure critique.”

I find it unconscionable that the Obama administration would actively work to continue infantilizing the Muslim world — along with all other religionists — by condoning this kind of policy. I had thought he would be a more enlightened president than this … but I guess I was wrong.

Finally, I honestly have to wonder why so many mass media outlets ignored this story. That also is unconscionable.

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