Obama’s Religious Freedom Appointee Involved in Muslim Event Calling for Limiting Freedom of Speech

March 26, 2013 - 11:24 AM

Quran-burning, Terry Jones

The Rev. Terry Jones of the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fla., caused an international uproar with his plan to burn copies of the Quran on church grounds to mark the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

(CNSNews.com) – America’s free-speech model is in desperate need of an update, says an American-Muslim human rights activist who recently spoke at an event linked to an Obama administration appointee.

Dr. Qasim Rashid argued that cyber-bullying laws could be used to limit freedom of expression – such as the burning of Korans -- in war time:

“When a nation is at war, many things that might be said in times of peace are a hindrance to this effort,” Rashid said on March 19 at Howard University.  “And their utterance will not be endured so long as men fight and…no court can regard them as protected by any constitutional right.”

Rashid began his remarks by personally thanking Dr. Azizah al-Hibri, appointed by President Barack Obama to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) in June 2011. Al-Hibri founded Karamah, a group devoted to the rights of Muslim women, and it was this group that invited Rashid to speak.

“I do want to start by thanking Karamah,” Rashid said.  “I was fortunate enough to have several constitutional scholars look at this paper and provide feedback. Dr. al-Hibri, of course…”

The topic of the March 19 event at Howard University was titled, “The Limits of Free Speech in a Global Era: Does America’s Free Speech Model Endanger Muslim Americans?”

“Our understanding of free speech today is not some long-held 227- or 235-year understanding,” said Rashid, a member of the Muslim Writers Guild of America, who presented a paper titled “In Harm’s Way: The Desperate Need to Update America’s Current Free Speech Model.”

Rashid quoted Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who in 2011 said, “Free speech is a great idea, but we're in a war.”

Advances in technology that allow videos and messages to cross the world in an instant require a “revised speech model,” Rashid said.

“Most, if not all of you are familiar with the 2011 case where Terry Jones, a pastor from Florida, burned a Koran on March 20, 2011, and this event itself provides a prime example of the gap that advanced technology caused in America's free speech model,” Rashid said.

“So in addition to placing a big sign on his church lawn that said Islam is the devil, Jones burned the Koran, screened it live on the Internet and put in layman's translations so that people in war-torn [areas] in particular can see what he's doing,” he continued.  “Now like the hypothetical KKK member who might burn a cross on his black neighbor’s lawn to target him specifically, Jones did the exact same thing by burning the Koran -- broadcast it and targeted Muslims in a war- torn country…to target them specifically.”

Rashid noted that government officials warned Jones that his actions might provoke violence, and while Jones said he knew it, he burned the Koran anyway, sparking deadly protests in Afghanistan and a condemnation by Pakistan’s government.

Using the Koran burning as an example, Rashid said that cyber-bullying legislation could be used to prosecute individuals for their speech on a case-by-case basis.

“My argument is that we already have legislation, right?” he said.  “I mean, we already have a cyber-bullying policy in all 50 states that even without the threat of violence – even without violence occurring, we're already holding individuals responsible for this intentional infliction of harm on others.”

“So I think that legislation's already there,” Rashid said.  “It's just more a question of how is it going to be applied.”

According to the Cyber-bullying Research Center, 49 states have bullying statutes and 16 states have cyber-bullying laws, which can prosecute individuals for electronic bullying.

In Arkansas, for example, a person can be charged with a Class B misdemeanor if they engage in communications online “with the purpose to frighten, coerce, intimidate, threaten, abuse, harass, or alarm another person.”

According to the Investigative Project on Terrorism, Dr. al-Hibri sat on the National Advisory Board of the American Muslim Council (AMC) from 1991 to 1998 with AMC Executive Director Abdurahman Alamoudi.  Alamoudi was later sentenced to 23 years in prison after pleading guilty to terrorism charges for his involvement in an assassination plot of then- Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah.

In June 2011, President Obama appointed Dr. al-Hibri to the USCIRF, an eight member federal body that monitors religious freedom conditions abroad and recommends policies that will “enhance freedom where it is imperiled.”

Dr. al-Hibri founded Karamah in 1993, one year after she became the first Muslim female law professor in the United States. She has written extensively on women's issues, democracy, and human rights from an Islamic perspective, her biography says.

Karamah said that Dr. al-Hibri is out of the country and was not available for comment.