Today President Obama addressed the United Nations and I was listening to what he said. Usually I don’t care about these kinds of speeches but a large part of the reason for my interest in this one came from the fact that in many Islamic nations there have been calls for international bans on speech that insults Islam and specifically that insults Muhammad.
In that rather charged political environment I was listening for what I hoped he would not leave unsaid. You see, I’ve been concerned about the administration and their attitude towards our Constitutional rights so I was listening for the President to say something about them. I’m glad to say that he did not disappoint. Here are a few selected quotes which were pretty much what I wanted to hear:
We have taken these positions because we believe that freedom and self-determination are not unique to one culture.
These are not simply American values or Western values; they are universal values…
[True democracy] depends on the freedom of citizens to speak their minds and assemble without fear, and on the rule of law and due process that guarantees the rights of all people…
In every culture, those who love freedom for themselves must ask themselves how much they’re willing to tolerate freedom for others…
I know there are some who ask why don’t we just ban such a video. The answer is enshrined in our laws. Our Constitution protects the right to practice free speech.
Here in the United States, countless publications provoke offense. Like me, the majority of Americans are Christian, and yet we do not ban blasphemy against our most sacred beliefs. As president of our country, and commander in chief of our military, I accept that people are going to call me awful things every day, and I will always defend their right to do so.- President Obama’s address to the United Nations, 9/25/2012
I have been growing increasingly concerned that the federal government in general and the Obama Administration in particular were becoming disinterested in protecting our Constitutional rights. What I wanted to hear our president do was defend the concept of freedom of speech and promote it in a global setting. That’s what he did here. Yes, he could have been more forceful and in your face, but that probably wasn’t wise in this setting.
I agree with Hunter Baker, the Constitutional formulation of free exercise of religion with the state anti-establishment clause is the best approach. But in recent years, I’ve seen things that make me fear that America is taking a more secular approach, that is, a forcing of religion out of the public square. “Believe what you’d like but keep it to yourself,” is an inferior approach to freedom of religion and it foolishly believes that human beings can be compartmentalized. It isn’t possible to believe, really believe, that humans were created in God’s image and not allow that to inform what you believe about abortion and end of life decisions and how people should treat each other. We may not all agree on those things but however we formulate it, the notion of the image of God informs it.
What has recently concerned me is the way the Obama Administration has been handling questions of freedom of religion in the area of contraception and abortion and the Affordable Care Act. Ross Douthat stated the problem well. He pointed out that churches are exempt from providing healthcare that includes contraception and abortion but a charity that is Roman Catholic or a university that is Christian is not exempt. And this was done in the name of “freedom of worship” which is not another name for freedom of religion. The net effect is a dilution of free exercise and instead a form of secularism where only churches can have religious scruples about these matters and other institutions may not.
So when President Obama spoke to the UN, as a minimum I wanted to hear him actually defend freedom of speech and freedom of religion. If he went on to promote them, and he did, that would be even better. The president’s speech was very encouraging given how the federal government has been compromising our freedoms since 9/11. Thank you President Obama.