More Obama: Freedom of speech obligates us to condemn insults to religion

posted at 9:21 pm on February 5, 2015 by Allahpundit

Noah already blogged the lowlight of this morning’s National Prayer Breakfast speech but don’t overlook this passage. The Washington Times didn’t.

There’s wisdom in our founders writing in those documents that help found this nation the notion of freedom of religion, because they understood the need for humility.  They also understood the need to uphold freedom of speech, that there was a connection between freedom of speech and freedom of religion.  For to infringe on one right under the pretext of protecting another is a betrayal of both. 

But part of humility is also recognizing in modern, complicated, diverse societies, the functioning of these rights, the concern for the protection of these rights calls for each of us to exercise civility and restraint and judgment.  And if, in fact, we defend the legal right of a person to insult another’s religion, we’re equally obligated to use our free speech to condemn such insults — (applause) — and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with religious communities, particularly religious minorities who are the targets of such attacks.  Just because you have the right to say something doesn’t mean the rest of us shouldn’t question those who would insult others in the name of free speech.  Because we know that our nations are stronger when people of all faiths feel that they are welcome, that they, too, are full and equal members of our countries.

Watch him deliver that at 12:25 below. He floated the same idea of a trade-off on blasphemy in his now famous speech to the UN a few years ago when he told the General Assembly “the future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam.” Legal sanctions against blasphemers are a bridge too far, he conceded, but moral sanctions are not just warranted but obligatory. We’ll punish the blasphemer, just not with the power of the state. Re-read the boldfaced part above. Does this guy, who swore an oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution, actually believe that our duty to defend a blasphemer’s right to free speech is no greater than our duty to condemn him for affronting religion?

Lots of questions flow from this. An obvious one: Who decides what qualifies as an insult? Islamist fanatics in various countries protested Charlie Hebdo’s post-attack cover of Mohammed shedding a tear and holding a “Je suis Charlie” sign. There’s nothing derogatory about that image; it’s the magazine’s decision to violate Islamic taboos prohibiting images of Mohammed that is itself the “insult.” Does O think we have a moral duty to condemn any depiction of Mohammed, whether insulting or not, because it offends Islamic sensibilities? Another obvious question: What other sorts of insults do we have a moral duty to condemn? Lots of secular liberals out there wouldn’t care if I insulted a religion but they’d be deeply insulted if I said progressivism was a philosophy favored by authoritarian lowlifes posing as populists. Why should we allow rough-and-tumble political criticism like that but join hands in condemnation of religious criticism? The Free Exercise Clause says you have a right to practice your faith, not that it enjoys some special moral prophylaxis from affront. You’d think a liberal, whose base includes so many atheists, would be more reluctant to pander on that.

But those are minor points. The big argument against O’s blasphemy trade-off is that it ignores the whole reason this topic is salient right now. Ross Douthat explained that neatly a few weeks ago:

[W]e are not in a vacuum. We are in a situation where my third point applies, because the kind of blasphemy that Charlie Hebdo engaged in had deadly consequences, as everyone knew it could … and that kind of blasphemy is precisely the kind that needs to be defended, because it’s the kind that clearly serves a free society’s greater good. If a large enough group of someones is willing to kill you for saying something, then it’s something that almost certainly needs to be said, because otherwise the violent have veto power over liberal civilization, and when that scenario obtains it isn’t really a liberal civilization any more. Again, liberalism doesn’t depend on everyone offending everyone else all the time, and it’s okay to prefer a society where offense for its own sake is limited rather than pervasive. But when offenses are policed by murder, that’s when we need more of them, not less, because the murderers cannot be allowed for a single moment to think that their strategy can succeed.

In this sense, many of the Western voices criticizing the editors of Hebdo have had things exactly backward: Whether it’s the Obama White House or Time Magazine in the past or the Financial Times and (God help us) the Catholic League today, they’ve criticized the paper for provoking violence by being needlessly offensive and “inflammatory” (Jay Carney’s phrase), when the reality is that it’s precisely the violence that justifies the inflammatory content. In a different context, a context where the cartoons and other provocations only inspired angry press releases and furious blog comments, I might sympathize with the FT’s Tony Barber when he writes that publications like Hebdo “purport to strike a blow for freedom when they provoke Muslims, but are actually just being stupid.” (If all you have to fear is a religious group’s fax machine, what you’re doing might not be as truth-to-power-ish as you think.) But if publishing something might get you slaughtered and you publish it anyway, by definition you are striking a blow for freedom, and that’s precisely the context when you need your fellow citizens to set aside their squeamishness and rise to your defense.

That’s a point you’d like to think the Leader of the Free World would be eager to make. Yes, he could say, in a world where criticism of religion was uniformly answered peacefully, it’d be fine to denounce the blasphemers. We don’t live in that world. When a fanatic demands that you choose between the right of the individual to mock and the right of believers not to be offended, on penalty of death, the choice is clear — no ifs, ands, or buts. When Charlie Hebdo or Lars Vilks or Ayaan Hirsi Ali doesn’t need bodyguards anymore, then and only then will he condone moral sanctions. Instead, this. But at this point, what else would you expect?

Related Posts:

Breaking on Hot Air



Trackback URL


I didn’t read the comments, so I am probably repeating a lot of stuff.

We are witnessing a man go down. He got his @$$ kicked in November but he refuses to believe that. However, as the reality presses on him, he’s getting even more angry & more irrational. It is not pretty, but we must endure.

22044 on February 6, 2015 at 11:21 AM

You have a religion where you’re not free to leave, or free to criticize, or speak your mind. That’s not a religion, that’s a prison. And Obama compares that favorably to Christianity?

LashRambo on February 6, 2015 at 11:36 AM

Why were there no boos or walkouts at yesterday’s travesty of a National Prayer Breakfast?

Christendom has been neutered. There’s no fight left in America’s Christians, sad to say. I left the Episcopal church for good, when I couldn’t reconcile the church’s reasoning for dropping “Onward Christian Soldiers” from the liturgy in the early ’70’s or so.

Christians need to find their cojones and learn to fight back again, or kiss their religion, and the entire American experiment in religious freedom goodbye.

FNH57 on February 6, 2015 at 11:43 AM

Three months before Obama was first elected, I told an inquirer that Obama was an empty suited supporter of live-birth abortion, and a pro-radical Islamist. My acquaintance called me a racist and stomped out of the room.

mkenorthshore on February 6, 2015 at 11:45 AM

…if, in fact, we defend the legal right of a person to insult another’s religion, we’re equally obligated to use our free speech to condemn such insults.

Mr. President, does that mean you will speak out just as forcefully against disrespect toward, say, Westboro Baptist Church?

And how is Jeremiah Wright doing these days?

GrumpyOldFart on February 6, 2015 at 11:58 AM

Azzhole in chief, on the great Ronald Reagan’s birthday.

Schadenfreude on February 6, 2015 at 11:59 AM

LOL – of course, obama is not referring to actual “religion” in general, or a specific actual “religion” – when he says “religion”, he is referring to the ‘death cult of islam’.

Pork-Chop on February 6, 2015 at 12:00 PM

Am I the only one who thinks Obama as much as admitted his religion is Islam, and NOT Christianity as he’s always claimed, with this statement?

Flora Duh on February 6, 2015 at 12:29 AM

I used to believe that he was an agnostic, or wannabe atheist, but more and more his words and his actions, plus the number of Muslims or Muslim background people surrounding him has caused me to believe that he may still be somewhat agnostic, but his heart lies with his Islamic years as a youth.

Neitherleftorright on February 6, 2015 at 12:42 PM

they’d be deeply insulted if I said progressivism was a philosophy favored by authoritarian lowlifes posing as populists.

heh. I’d love to see you try and find ONE of these “lots”.

fantastic use of Mr.Strawman.

everdiso on February 6, 2015 at 10:03 AM

He just found one everditzy. You really aren’t to swift on the uptake are you?

Neitherleftorright on February 6, 2015 at 12:50 PM

but his heart lies with his Islamic years as a youth.

Neitherleftorright on February 6, 2015 at 12:42 PM

I still think the true god he worships is himself, but I think you’re right.

GWB on February 6, 2015 at 1:10 PM

…says the insulting, Liar in Chief.

Just when you think your level of respect for someone has reached zero, they reach behind themselves and pull out a shovel and start digging for an even lower value.

ProfShadow on February 6, 2015 at 1:23 PM

Okay. I condemn you.

mkenorthshore on February 6, 2015 at 5:14 PM

Barack Obama is a well-known expert on the need for humility.

Cation on February 6, 2015 at 8:42 PM

Islam is a crick of s**t.

And Mr Obama is a talentless bowl of the same.

There. Oppose THAT free speech.

orangemtl on February 6, 2015 at 9:19 PM

but his heart lies with his Islamic years as a youth.

Neitherleftorright on February 6, 2015 at 12:42 PM

I still think the true god he worships is himself, but I think you’re right.

GWB on February 6, 2015 at 1:10 PM

I perceive that self-worship seems to be a common characteristic of Muslims and that is perhaps because ‘Allah’ was conceived in the mind of a petty, spiteful, lustful human seeking self-gratification. Of course, Muslims are not the only self-worshippers but their religion encourages it and this, perhaps, is why they seem particularly susceptible to deeds like ‘honour’ killings and slavery.

YiZhangZhe on February 7, 2015 at 2:58 PM

This bleating from Hussein the Abominable is kinda funny, since *he* is the insulting Offender in Chief.


I still think the true god he worships is himself…

And I still agree.

Olo_Burrows on February 7, 2015 at 4:43 PM