In the ad produced by the U.S. government to air in Pakistan condemning the video “The Innocence of Muslims,” President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton cite the Founding Fathers to convey the importance of religious tolerance. Their theme: the United States stands for religious freedom.
“Since our founding, the United States has been a nation that respects all faiths,” says the president in the ad. “We reject all efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others.”
“America’s commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation,” says Secretary Clinton. “Let me state very clearly, and I hope it is obvious, that the United States government had absolutely nothing to do with this video. We absolutely reject its content and message.”
That is the entire message of the ad: The U.S. stands for religious freedom in general and in particular had nothing to do with the anti-Muslim video. And it is just part of a larger American effort to stress the issue of religious tolerance around the Muslim world. “We are encouraging leaders — government, religious, community leaders — around the world to speak out in support of tolerance, against violence, against insult of any religion,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Thursday.
Here’s a question: While the president and Secretary of State are sending a message of America’s religious tolerance to the world — a principle embedded in the First Amendment to the Constitution — why not add a message about another bedrock constitutional principle, free speech? The same First Amendment that says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” also prohibits Congress from “abridging the freedom of speech…” That would include the right to make an anti-Muslim video, or create a musical mocking Mormons, or an “artwork” insulting Christianity, or any of the other religious provocations that are routinely allowed in the United States.
Obama and Clinton appear determined to show Muslim radicals that the United States respects their beliefs. But what about also suggesting that those Muslim radicals should respect the bedrock American belief in free speech? You can watch the new U.S. government ad over and over, and you’ll never hear a word about that.