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Clinton Says More Effort Needed to Combat Religious Intolerance

By Stephen Kaufman | Staff Writer | 15 July 2011
Close-up of Hillary Clinton (AP Images)

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton

Washington — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton urged countries to follow up on the U.N. Human Rights Council’s adoption of a resolution that protects freedom of expression and seeks to end the friction between free speech and religious defamation.

Speaking at the high-level meeting of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) on combating religious intolerance, held in Istanbul July 15, Clinton praised the OIC and the European Union for helping to pass a resolution that takes “a strong stand for freedom of expression and worship, and against discrimination and violence based upon religion or belief.”

The resolution, passed March 24, relaxed broad prohibitions on free expression that had been imposed in the name of preventing religious defamation.

“Together we have begun to overcome the false divide that pits religious sensitivities against freedom of expression, and we are pursuing a new approach based on concrete steps to fight intolerance wherever it occurs,” Clinton said.

“The resolution calls upon states to protect freedom of religion, to counter offensive expression through education, interfaith dialogue and public debate, and to prohibit discrimination, profiling and hate crimes, but not to criminalize speech unless there is an incitement to imminent violence,” she said. Clinton urged countries to begin implementing the measure.

The secretary said no country, including the United States, “has a monopoly on truth or a secret formula for ethnic and religious harmony.” There are still Americans who “feel vulnerable or marginalized as a result of their religious beliefs,” and “wide ripples of intolerance” can spread from the actions of only a few incendiary people, Clinton said.

In response, “we are focused on promoting interfaith education and collaboration, enforcing anti-discrimination laws, protecting the rights of all people to worship as they choose and to use some old-fashioned techniques of peer pressure and shaming, so that people don’t feel that they have the support to do what we abhor,” she said.

In addition, Clinton announced that the Obama administration plans to invite relevant world experts later in 2011 for “a series of meetings to discuss best practices, exchange ideas and keep us moving forward” on implementing the resolution.

Clinton said the need for religious tolerance around the world is as important as ever in 2011. The transitions to democracy in the Middle East and North Africa “have also exposed ethnic and religious minorities to new dangers,” she said, and established democracies still need to work to fully protect their religious diversity, prevent discrimination and protect freedom of expression.

“For all of these reasons, this gathering and the shared commitment it represents is vitally important,” she told the OIC meeting. “It is one of these events that has great ramifications far beyond this room.”

(This is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://iipdigital.usembassy.gov/iipdigital-en/index.html)