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Obama Offers a Strong Defense of Free Speech

President Obama Tuesday minced no words in defending the First Amendment before the world, declaring in a speech to the United Nations that the right to free speech is “enshrined” in our Constitution and that failure to safeguard it leads to oppression.

In response to the video denigrating Mohammed that sparked outrage in the Muslim world, Obama had been slow off the mark defending the right of free expression. But he used the platform at the UN not only to defend American free speech but to try to promote it to the rest of the world.

I know there are some who ask why we don’t just ban such a video.  And 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 — (laughter) — and I will always defend their right to do so.  (Applause.)

Americans have fought and died around the globe to protect the right of all people to express their views, even views that we profoundly disagree with.  We do not do so because we support hateful speech, but because our founders understood that without such protections, the capacity of each individual to express their own views and practice their own faith may be threatened.  We do so because in a diverse society, efforts to restrict speech can quickly become a tool to silence critics and oppress minorities.

We do so because given the power of faith in our lives, and the passion that religious differences can inflame, the strongest weapon against hateful speech is not repression; it is more speech — the voices of tolerance that rally against bigotry and blasphemy, and lift up the values of understanding and mutual respect.

Of course, Obama did try to get the video removed from YouTube. But at least we’re hearing the right words now.

Obama noted, correctly, that not everyone around the world accepts free speech. And though he didn’t say it, the fact is, they never will – or not anytime soon.

But he leavened this bow to reality with a demand that others not translate their opposition to free speech into violence.

Now, I know that not all countries in this body share this particular understanding of the protection of free speech.  We recognize that.  But in 2012, at a time when anyone with a cell phone can spread offensive views around the world with the click of a button, the notion that we can control the flow of information is obsolete.  The question, then, is how do we respond?

And on this we must agree:  There is no speech that justifies mindless violence.  (Applause.)  There are no words that excuse the killing of innocents.  There’s no video that justifies an attack on an embassy.  There’s no slander that provides an excuse for people to burn a restaurant in Lebanon, or destroy a school in Tunis, or cause death and destruction in Pakistan.

In this modern world with modern technologies, for us to respond in that way to hateful speech empowers any individual who engages in such speech to create chaos around the world.  We empower the worst of us if that’s how we respond.

Here is some video that includes the free speech comments:

The free speech section of the remarks complemented what was generally a far less accommodationist tone than Obama speeches past. Today, Obama condemned the violence and disorder that has grown up out of the Arab Spring.

It is time to marginalize those who — even when not directly resorting to violence — use hatred of America, or the West, or Israel, as the central organizing principle of politics . . .

Understand America will never retreat from the world.  We will bring justice to those who harm our citizens and our friends, and we will stand with our allies.  We are willing to partner with countries around the world to deepen ties of trade and investment, and science and technology, energy and development . . . for partnerships to be effective our citizens must be secure and our efforts must be welcomed.

Whether Obama is posturing in order to avoid being outflanked by a tougher foreign approach by Gov. Mitt Romney, or whether Obama may have gotten a dose of reality about the world in three and half years as president – or both – is unclear to me.

But the speech was a welcome departure from the unadulterated effort to be pleasing and reasonable that has been the hallmark of Obama’s foreign policy.

55 Responses to Obama Offers a Strong Defense of Free Speech

  1. Keith, I think you are misunderstanding Obama’s tactics. I noticed this in his 2008 campaign. He takes several positions on one issue — people pick out the one with which they agree and cling to it. They willfully ignore his contradictions because they want so much to support him or they just don’t take in that he’s playing to several separate audiences at once.

    He’s not “slow off the mark,” he has sent one message by hanging back and letting his silence inform his supporters of his real attitude and now he’s scooping up the rest of us by coming out and pretending to be dedicated to American values and freedoms.

  2. I will give him no quarter. He is a practiced reader of the words of a tyrant in my opinion. Also in the transcript of his speech…”The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam.”

    If you haven’t seen 2016 yet, please do. It’s coming out on DVD Oct 16th. You owe it to yourself and your children to watch. If you saw that movie, you would know Obama isn’t talking to Americans, he’s talking to the world. He is sympathetic to the barbaric throwbacks to the 6th century because he sees them as freedom-fighters (aka anti-colonists).

  3. WHD you disappoint me so! Giving Obama a glowing post? I don’t believe one word BO said.

    Listening to his speech, he put more feeling into saying what he personally thought of the video (who cares!!) than he did America’s beautiful precepts of liberty and free speech.

    Actually, I wish BO would tell his Hollywood friends the same thing — that their movies are “crude and disgusting” — which is why I’ve learned the Muslim world hates us so. Think Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton.

    Frankly, I was embarrassed by the speech. Pinning the death of our ambassador and three other Americans on a video? Please, that is so lame and patently false. His policies are the reason for the failure. The Arab Spring turned bloody Winter have been an utter disaster for the region and our allies — especially the ousting of Mubarak, who was a dictator yes, but at least was upholding the peace treaty with Israel.

    Egypt is a mess. So is neighboring Syria — nearly 18,000 people dead — mostly Christians and innocent civilians. Where is Code “stink” Pink now? I suppose because this doesn’t involve vaginas and birth control pills, they are uninterested. I’ll bet there are lots of women in 18,000 innocents murdered.

    Sorry WHD. Obama will NEVER fool me with his phony patriotism and hollow-sounding rhetoric. He’s the hollow man in America’s hallowed halls.

  4. This “president” will say whatever he feels he needs to say to hold onto power. With a snake like this, the only litmus test is his actions, and his actions do not promote free speech, from freezing-out certain reporters and networks, to most recently blaming his failed foreign policies on free speech, an obscure video.

    Obama shows you one hand while he’s picking your pocket with the other.

    • Thank God you all had a Tea Party, the end result of which was a ticket Gopper ticket consisting of a plutocrat who deliberately pays more than he owes in taxes in the hopes you won’t notice he’s rich, and a guy who wants to voucherize Medicare.

      Nice throat-cutting, guys!

      • I’ll take it any day over a lying affirmative action scumbag racist America-hating communist Marxist literate idiot “president”. And that’s putting it nicely.

  5. I agree with you here, it was no real defense of free speech, it was too diluted, too ambigous . And why add such a puzzling sentence, ” the future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam” ? Was that a threat ? He is not trustworthy, we can guess what he really thinks about this subject. Like you said Keith, he is just posturing not to be outflanked by Romney, a real American with real American values.

  6. Did he not also say The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam? I might rephrase that to mean The future must not belong to those Americans who choose to exercise their freedom of speech by expressing what they think of the prophet Islam? As I have said elsewhere, Pretty Eye Candy Boy does not ensnare me with his pretty words. This is the world stage, the UN, where Obama shines. This is his “rightful place”. And these are words, just words.

    But I suspect for the duration of the week we will hear all about this Obama, this defender of human dignity, and rights, and freedoms. Yes, The One We Have Been Waiting for is Back. Vintage Obama 2008.

  7. And then there is this from A. West. Not exactly touchy feely but it works for me.

    My statement to the United Nations would have been, “The future does not belong to those who attack our Embassies and Consulates and kill our Ambassadors. The Angel of Death in the form of an American Bald Eagle will visit you and wreak havoc and destruction upon your existence”

    Read more

  8. “Pres.” Obama speaks about ‘International Relations’ = Why the F#ck do I care about what Obama says about ‘International Relations’, when he has NO clue…

  9. Forget about speeches. Pay close attention to the bits of news that are not getting any coverage.

    1. 55 Gitmo detainees to be released (one third of them). When? Why?
    2. Abu Hamza to be extradited to the US from GB for trial. When? Why now?

  10. I bet it hurts him to pretend like that just to get elected by peasants! He’ll be so glad when the election is over and he has more “flexibility”…

    Nice speech. By his actions, though, here’s the reality;

    You’re free to talk about how much you love Obama and hate Bush.

    You’re free to agree with Obama’s positions unless you want to be referred to as “enemies”.

    You’re free to call Republican women C*nts and wh#res, and African American Republicans Uncle Toms and house ni$%ers.

    You’re free to publish the addresses of people who have the same names as people you hate because of a news story, as long as it advances Obama’s cause.

    You’re free to insult the Christian religion of your choice, There may even be taxpayer funds available for your religiously insulting “art project”, as long as the religion it insults is not Islam.

    You’re free to be as anti-Semetic as you like, anywhere you like.Anti-Semetism is welcome, indeed expected, at the UN or any Occupy site.

    You’re also free to vote for Obama as many times as you like, as early as you like, and (at least in Ohio), even organize absentee votes for Obama complete with help filling out the ballot for Obama by African American churches of many demoninations without worrying about that pesky tax code.

    What other free speech do you need?

    • cincy – unless you’re Biteme, then you can say: “I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy”.

      Oops, I forget free speech is only for progressives. The rest of us get “charged” with being racists.

  11. “Mr. Obese in Ineptitude Obama” at it again. I wonder if he had to grit his teeth in order to spit out the words some speech writer put in front of him. He clearly does not believe those words or else he would have uttered something similar much earlier on. Once they saw some of the backlash from his position they hastened to “clear things up” for those of us who misunderstood what he really meant.

  12. “….the right to free speech is “enshrined” in our Constitution and that failure to safeguard it leads to oppression.”

    At this point, the walls should have started collapsing inside the UN building. Coming from the forked tongue of the most anti-Constitutionalist Marxist on the planet, this is the height of hypocrisy. The yoke of oppression has been tightening around the necks of Americans since the first day this tyrant stepped into the WH.

  13. “Of course, Obama did try to get the video removed from youtube”. That says it all, Keith. Obama’s first impulse was against the First Amendment, but he stuck his finger in the wind, and changed his tune. And no one will remember his first actions.

  14. Forgive my multiple postings, but if one were so inclined one could consider the “future free of slander of the prophet of Islam” nonsense as just so much camel’s nose under the tent support for the anti blasphemy movement which has been alive in the UN since Pakistan first brought it forward as the Defamation of Islam Resolution in 1999.

  15. “Whether Obama is posturing in order to avoid being outflanked by a tougher foreign approach by Gov. Mitt Romney, or whether Obama may have gotten a dose of reality about the world in three and half years as president – or both – is unclear to me.”

    to clarify for you: yes, he is posturing to avoid being outflanked by Romney.

  16. Yom Kippur kept me from responding to this.
    Obama DIDN’T defend Free Speech…he equated it with violence.
    He said, “The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam. But to be credible, those who condemn that slander must also condemn the hate we see in the images of Jesus Christ that are desecrated, or churches that are destroyed, or the Holocaust that is denied. Let us condemn incitement against Sufi Muslims and Shiite pilgrims.”

    You can NOT equate slandering a religion with the destruction of a church, or the incitement against a Muslim group or a mosque.

    Free speech as long as it is not actively inciting violence is never comparable to actual violence. But Obama says it is.