FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: U.S. Government Response to Violence in Libya & Egypt Indicates Troubling Views on Free Speech
Thursday, September 13, 2012
September 13, 2012 - NEW YORK - On Tuesday night, the eleventh anniversary of September 11, 2001, Libyan militants attacked the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, brutally killing U.S. ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. In Cairo, nearly 3,000 Egyptian demonstrators climbed the walls of the U.S. embassy, violently attacked U.S. sovereign territory, tore down an American flag, and replaced it with a black one that read: "There is no God but God and Mohammed is the prophet of God."
U.S. officials indicated the attacks in Benghazi, orchestrated under the guise of protesting a satirical film produced in the United States about Islam's Prophet Mohammed, may have been pre-planned. Officials suspect "an organized group had either been waiting for an opportunity to exploit like the protests over the video or perhaps even generated the protests as a cover for their attack." At least one day before the attacks in Egypt, terrorist groups including Islamic Jihad, the Sunni Group, and Al Gamaa Al Islamiyya issued a statement calling for the immediate release of Islamist jihadis imprisoned in the United States and threatened to burn the U.S. Embassy in Cairo to the ground.
Nevertheless, the embassy posted the following press release on its website:
The embassy then tweeted after the attack that it stood by the release.
While the Obama administration reportedly disavowed the language as "not reflect[ing] the views of the United States government," subsequent statements released by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama adopted the same view on defamation of religion. Secretary Clinton's statement condemned "in the strongest terms" the Benghazi attack, then added:
Shortly thereafter, Clinton described the film at issue as "disgusting and reprehensible" and empathized with those who do not "understand why the United States cannot or does not just prevent these kinds of reprehensible videos from ever seeing the light of day," noting that "in today's world, with today's technologies, that is impossible." Clinton then emphasized the role that the Constitution plays in limiting the government's ability to "stop individual citizens from expressing their views, no matter how distasteful they may be."
Similarly, President Obama's statement condemned the killings, continuing, "While the United States rejects efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others, we must all unequivocally oppose the kind of senseless violence that took the lives of these public servants." (Emphasis added)
President Obama and Secretary Clinton's statements echo the position of the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which have been maneuvering to stifle the blasphemy of Islam throughout the world. The Lawfare Project has previously reported on the administration's efforts to suppress speech about militant Islam and terrorism, most notably:
The Lawfare Project is deeply concerned with both the State Department and the President's qualified condemnations of brutal violence claiming the lives of U.S. citizens, and with their ongoing efforts to suppress protected speech critical of Islamism.
Lawfare Project Director Brooke Goldstein commented, "It is firmly within the constitutional rights of American citizens and, contrary to the embassy's statement, within the free speech rights of all human beings to speak openly and critically about Islam as well as all other religions. This is true even when the speech amounts to 'hate speech' or is offensive."
The U.S. Supreme Court and lower courts have repeatedly held the protection of contentious speech to be a critical component of our society. In Terminiello v. City of Chicago, the Supreme Court famously stated:
The Lawfare Project calls upon the Executive Branch to withdraw recent statements undermining the value of and publicly discrediting the constitutionally protected right to speak freely and critically about religion.
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