It was nice to hear Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton say on October 26, "I strongly disagree" with Islamic countries seeking to censor free speech worldwide by making defamation of religion a crime under international law.
But watch what the Obama administration does, not just what it says. I’m not talking about its attacks on Fox News. I’m talking about a little-publicized October 2 resolution in which Clinton’s own State Department joined Islamic nations in adopting language all-too-friendly to censoring speech that some religions and races find offensive.
The ambiguously worded United Nations Human Rights Council resolution could plausibly be read as encouraging or even obliging the U.S. to make it a crime to engage in hate speech, or, perhaps, in mere "negative racial and religious stereotyping." This despite decades of First Amendment case law protecting such speech.
To be sure, the provisions to which I refer were a compromise, stopping short of the flat ban on defamation of religion sought by Islamic nations, and they could also be construed more narrowly and innocuously. It all depends on who does the construing.
Is it "negative stereotyping" to say that the world’s most dangerous terrorists are Islamists, for example? Many would say yes.
I sketch below how the resolution could be construed to require prosecuting some offensive speech and how it could be used in the long run to change the meaning of our Constitution and laws, based on doctrines developed by legal academics including Obama appointee Harold Koh, the State Department’s top lawyer.