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Obama: 'Blasphemy must be tolerated' in free society

The U.S. president challenges assumptions about free speech in the wake of an anti-Muslim film that sparked violence across the Middle East and Asia

  • Lauren Markoe, Washington
  • United States
  • September 26, 2012
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President Obama on Tuesday gave a forceful speech at the United Nations, in which he challenged much of the world's assumptions about free speech and religion.

Here are five points from his address, which together, add up to as close to an Obama Doctrine on Religion as we've seen:

1. Blasphemy must be tolerated, however intolerable

The idea that the U.S. protects even vile speech, so ingrained in American culture, seems counterintuitive to much of the world. It’s an especially tough concept when speech targets a religion, but Obama argued that restrictions on speech too often become weapons to suppress religion – especially the rights of religious minorities.

2. Religious respect is a two-way street

Obama went on the offensive: If you’re going to denounce intolerance against your own religion, he said, you must also call out those who demean the religion of others.

3. Turn the other cheek

In the wake of riots across the Muslim world sparked by the anti-Muslim film "The Innocence of Muslims," Obama called violence an illegitimate reaction to offensive speech, religious or otherwise.

4. One nation under God

Obama drew on the religious diversity of the U.S. to make his case for tolerance abroad.

“We are a country that has welcomed people of every race and religion. We are home to Muslims who worship across our country,” he said. “We understand why people take offense to this video because millions of our citizens are among them.”

5. The danger of extremism

The democratic movements sweeping the Arab world could be derailed by intolerance rooted in religious difference, Obama warned. He made the preservation of the Arab Spring a global responsibility.

Full story: Obama at the UN: A new religion doctrine

Source: Religion News Service
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