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The United Nations would have us forget all about the idea of inalienable rights with which all individuals are endowed by their Creator. The UN wants us to forget the idea that government was established for the purpose of securing these rights, not to create them with the power to take them away. Such ideas are so old-fashioned, after all. The Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, including the First Amendment, were written in the eighteenth century. The United Nations believes it has a much more modern idea.
Free speech is a “gift given to us by the [Universal] Declaration of Human Rights,” said Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations Jan Eliasson during a press conference on October 2nd at UN headquarters in New York. It is “a privilege,” Eliasson said, “that we have, which in my view involves also the need for respect, the need to avoid provocations.”
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a set of normative principles adopted by a majority of the member states of the UN. It gave rise to legally enforceable UN human rights treaties that embodied its core principles, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
Under Deputy Secretary General Eliasson’s logic, the UN Declaration of Human Rights, which gave us the “gift” of free speech, can be modified or interpreted in such a way that would restrict its use if people were deemed too provocative or irresponsible in what they express.
It’s no leap at all from this premise to the conclusion that statements, cartoons, videos and other forms of expression that offend a religious faith’s sensibilities and provoke them to violence – especially Muslim believers in the superiority of their faith, whom are easily provoked – is an unacceptable misuse of the “gift.”
In an apparent bow to the Muslim world’s reaction regarding the video insulting Prophet Mohammed, Eliasson said:
[W]e understand you, that you were provoked, that it was an absolutely unnecessary, stupid way of causing even more hatred among you. And when you run on the streets and people are killed and buildings are burned down, those who provoke have succeeded. We shouldn’t fall in that trap of provocation, so that’s the line I think we’ll take.
Eliasson’s boss Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said last month that using “freedom of expression to provoke or humiliate some others’ values and beliefs” was not worthy of protection. Rather, Ban Ki-moon indicated that such freedom only deserved protection when “used for common justice, common purpose.”
At first glance, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights appears to be fully consistent with the values enshrined in our Bill of Rights rather than the more restrictive interpretation of the right of free speech put forth by Ban Ki-moon and Jan Eliasson.
Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights sounds good to believers in the First Amendment: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
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