Is the Obama Administration Supporting Calls to Outlaw Supposed Hate Speech?

Eugene Volokh
October 1, 2009

That’s what it looks like, with this Joint U.S./Egypt draft U.N. Human Rights Council resolution (dated Sept. 2005). The resolution generally seems to be an attempt to urge more protection for free speech throughout the world, and some praise it for that; moreover, it lacks the exception for “defamation of religion” that some Muslim countries have urged. It may therefore be a step forward for Egypt, and an attempt to urge a step forward for some other countries.

But I’m worried that it might be a step backward for our own constitutional rights, because of what seems to be the U.S. endorsement of the suppression of “any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence” and possibly of “negative stereotyping of religions and racial groups.” I say “seems to be” because some of the language in the resolution is pretty slippery, and of course it’s always possible that I’m misunderstanding it. (It’s also possible that past U.S. Administrations have taken similar views before, which I would condemn as well.) Here, though, is my thinking (all emphases added by me):

1. Paragraph 4 of the draft resolution “expresses … concern that incidents of racial and religious intolerance, discrimination and related violence, as well as of negative stereotyping of religions and racial groups continue to rise around the world, and condemns, in this context, any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence, and urges States to take effective measures, consistent with their international human rights obligations, to address and combat such incidents.”

2. Paragraph 6 likewise “[s]tresses that condemning and addressing, in accordance with international human rights obligations, including those regarding equal protection of the law, any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence is an important safeguard to ensure the enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms of all, particularly minorities.”

Volokh’s article continues here.

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