Muslim Nations Force behind UN 'Defamation'

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Muslim nations have pressed the UN to give special protection to Islam. Supporters say a proposed resolution forbidding defamation of religions would protect people of faith.

Christian groups are warning it would actually hinder efforts to spread the gospel.

Elizabeth Cassidy, associate director for Policy and Research at the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom, spoke with CBN News about the impact this resolution could have for Christians around the world.

Muslim countries are the driving force behind the defamation of religions resolution. Their intent is to impose criminal penalties on individuals deemed guilty in words or actions of defaming another person's religion.

"This defamation of religion has nothing to do with protecting religious freedom -- to the contrary. What it does is isolate and protect Islam from criticism, which means those that are engaged in the proclamation of the gospel to members of the Muslim faith would be guilty of violating a UN resolution," said Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice.

Previous resolutions only addressed the Islamic faith. More recently, a conference of 57 Islamic nations determined broader support could be won if their proposal included other faiths.

Carl Moeller of Open Doors USA says the resolution would actually restrict Christians from freely practicing their faith.

"Simple Christian activities like praying, worshipping and sharing one's belief in Jesus Christ with a neighbor can be interpreted as offensive and therefore restricted," Moeller said.

Globally, Muslim nations have taken the lead to impose penalties against speech or actions they find offensive.

Pakistan is one example.

A restrictive blasphemy law imposed by the late President Zia El-Haq in the 1980's is still in force today. Islamic militants often use it to falsely accuse and attack members of the country's minority Christian community.

That was the case last summer in the city of Gojra. Eight Christians were killed and homes were burned when Muslims went on a rampage. The militants claimed the Quran had been desecrated -- a crime under Pakistan's blasphemy law.

Pakistan's blasphemy law contains three main sections:

  • blasphemy against Islam
  • blasphemy against the Muslim holy book, the Quran
  • and blasphemy against the prophet Mohammad.

The maximum sentence for those found guilty of blaspheming the Quran is life imprisonment. The punishment for blaspheming Mohammed is death.

No Christian convicted of blasphemy has been executed by the state, but many have languished in prison for years.

Pakistani Christians have launched a petition drive demanding a repeal of the blasphemy law. If the proposed Defamation of Religions law is approved by the UN, those efforts would possibly be in vain.

Sekulow fears a worldwide standard.

"Even if it is not legally enforceable in a given country, it does set a standard. And unfortunately a lot of these countries end up adopting resolution language that the UN passes. So, the precedent here is very dangerous," Sekulow said.

And worldwide, UN adoption of a defamation law could mean similar actions like those against Christians in Pakistan -- and even in Gojra -- could become more common place.

*Original broadcast October 23, 2009.

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