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US free speech faces Islamic blasphemy law pressure, analyst says
Paul Marshall speaks at the Allan P. Kirby, Jr. Center for Constitutional Studies and Citizenship in Washington, D.C. on Feb. 3, 2012
Paul Marshall speaks at the Allan P. Kirby, Jr. Center for Constitutional Studies and Citizenship in Washington, D.C. on Feb. 3, 2012
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.- Paul Marshall, a religious liberty expert, says that attempts to “export” Islamic anti-blasphemy laws to the West could pose a threat to freedom of speech in the U.S.

Marshall, senior fellow at the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, said that many governments deliberately manipulate alleged instances of blasphemy by provoking popular outrage, enabling them to advance “particular policy goals.”

Marshall made his remarks Feb. 3 at Hillsdale College’s Allan P. Kirby, Jr. Center for Constitutional Studies and Citizenship in Washington, D.C.

He argued that blasphemy codes in the Muslim world are used to stifle religious minorities, as well as Muslim reformers who support religious liberty, freedom of speech and democracy.

In the U.S., Marshall observed, courts generally uphold the First Amendment’s free speech protections. But he said that America is still threatened by blasphemy laws, and cited efforts by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation to promote international laws that ban insults to Islam, through the United Nations.

Marshall also cautioned against a growing tendency towards “extra-legal intimidation,” which involves private individuals pre-emptively censoring themselves -- often under the guise of religious sensitivity -- because they realize that it is “too dangerous” to insult Islam.

To illustrate the effectiveness of this intimidation, he gave multiple examples of books, newspapers and television shows that refused to publish content that could be deemed offensive to Islam, although they chose to carry similar material that mocked Christianity and other religions.

He also recounted the 2010 story of Molly Norris, a Seattle cartoonist, who called for an “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day” in response to such self-censorship. She received death threats for the suggestion and, under the advice of the FBI, changed her name and went into hiding.

Marshall also warned of the potential for government policies that seek to restrict speech. He observed that the Obama administration has vocalized a commitment to fighting “negative stereotypes of Islam,” although it has not done the same for other religions.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, he noted, invited the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation to a meeting in Washington, D.C. to discuss how the U.S. could carry out this commitment.

According to Marshall, the December 2011 meeting featured presentations on how
America should fix its treatment of Muslims. It was also suggested that the U.S. should learn from countries in the organization, which use the death penalty to fight blasphemy within their borders, he said.

Although Clinton claimed to be simply pursuing tolerance, Marshall said it was concerning that she was partnering with an organization that has been aggressively lobbying to restrict free speech through legal controls. 

He urged the Obama administration to end this partnership and instead promote the idea that “in open, boisterous, free societies” all religions will likely be subject to criticism. 

The American founders considered freedom of speech to be critical, Marshall concluded, adding that “their example is always needed, but never more so than in a time such as this.”

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