If President Barack Obama was serious last week when he addressed the United Nations, then he just quietly declared war on the First Amendment. If he was not serious, then he is pandering to murderous mobs who demanded that he denounce an obscure YouTube video critical of their faith.
The New York Times portrayed Obama’s remarks as a strong defense of free speech and a challenge to Arab leaders to reform. If only that were true.
Looking at the actual words Obama used reveals what could be called the “Obama Doctrine”– where the U.S. constitution does not permit the president to restrict speech before it is spoken, the president will punish speech, after the fact, by marginalizing the speaker.
“[I]t is the obligation of all leaders, in all countries, to speak out forcefully against violence and extremism. It is time to marginalize those who — even when not directly resorting to violence — use hatred … as a central organizing principle of politics,” Obama said.
Later in his speech, Obama offered an example of those whose opinions should be marginalized: “The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam. Yet to be credible, those who condemn that slander must also condemn the hate we see in the images of Jesus Christ that are desecrated…”
“Slander” is speech. “Hate” usually takes the form of speech, too. Is Obama calling on world leaders to join him in ridiculing non-violent people whose speech he does not like? Or by “marginalization” does he mean something worse than tough words from the bully pulpit?
Obama’s new doctrine is frightening in two senses. His call to “marginalize” those who “slander” or “hate” encourages the autocrats of Iran, Syria, and other regimes to punish dissidents while also threatening to shrink the free speech rights of Americans.
Let’s be honest: The only way to police hatred is to police speech. Governments cannot read hearts or minds, but they can read blogs, tweets and texts, and punish what they find disagreeable there. This is what Obama’s “marginalizing” of “hatred” looks like.
At first, governments ban only a few “hateful” words. But we know where this ends. Every time such broad power is given to the powerful, they determine that everything critical of their power is “hate” and therefore banned. Over time, free speech is lost. U.S. presidents and judges have never bestowed this power upon themselves, nor can they under U.S. law, and this is why the country remains free.
Obama’s words signal a sharp departure. For generations, presidents have defended the rights of individuals to say unpopular things, as long as they avoided imminent violence. Obama told the UN that even non-violent speech — if he considers it hateful — should be punished through government sponsored marginalization. This rewrites two centuries of First Amendment law.
Has an American president ever called for government action, at home and abroad, to “marginalize” peaceful, non-violent citizens whose opinions he disfavors? On the subject of religion?
Bad speech should be countered by good speech, and that is the job of the citizens, not the government. The government may not pick winners and losers in the marketplace of ideas.
Read more at IB Times