Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a speech Wednesday in Washington, D.C., that focused on protecting freedom of speech and religion at a conference on international religious liberty.
Clinton delivered the closing remarks for “the Istanbul Process,” which is a series of meetings taking place regarding United Nations Resolution 16/18, which focuses on improving religious freedom internationally.
Evan Owen, spokesman for the State Department, told The Christian Post that the conference was about the “importance of freedom of speech and how it goes hand-in-hand with freedom of religion.”
Discussion on Resolution 16/18 focused on two of the components: how to properly enforce anti-discrimination law and outreach to religious minority communities.
“[Resolution 16/18] marks a step forward in creating a safe global environment for practicing and expressing one’s beliefs,” said Clinton before attendees, which included religious liberty experts from several countries, officials from the Department of Justice, and several ambassadors.
“In it, we pledge to protect the freedom of religion for all while also protecting freedom of expression.”
Tina Ramirez, director of International and Government Relations for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, believes that Clinton’s speech missed the mark on religious liberty issues.
“There was no discussion of the blasphemy and apostasy laws that cause the majority of the violence against individuals for their religious beliefs,” said Ramirez.
Although Clinton made “many strong points,” she said, “the administration continues to avoid addressing the real issue at stake.”
“If this administration really wanted to take religious freedom seriously,” said Ramirez, “they would strengthen the Office of International Religious Freedom at the State Department rather than demote its role in the bureau.”
Short for the “Istanbul Process for Combating Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief,” the process began in July in the city of Istanbul, where Clinton called for a series of meetings to address rising religious intolerance globally.
The major focus of the meetings is Resolution 16/18, which garnered controversy in some circles over its alleged support of government censorship of anti-religious speech.
Jonathan Turley, a professor of public interest law at George Washington University, wrote an opinion column denouncing the resolution.
“[T]he resolution will likely reinforce the right of countries to criminalize anti-religious speech and blasphemy laws,” Turley writes.
Owen believes critics of the resolution “are unfamiliar” with it, as Resolution 16/18 has shifted its focus from censoring anti-religious speech to countering it with more speech.
“The debate has shifted,” contended Owen, with the focus being to “counter offensive speech with more speech.”
“The United Nations’ most recent resolution on religious freedom curiously omits criminalization of ‘defamation’ or ‘vilification’ of religion which was a positive development,” said Ramirez, who maintained that blasphemy laws are still “the real problem.”
“Victims of such laws remain on death row, while the UN and the State Department claim a victory for religious freedom.”