Tag Archive for: Center for Religious Freedom

Poll: 69% of Americans Believe Free Speech Is ‘Heading in the Wrong Direction’

Over the years, research centers have routinely polled American citizens on the topic of free speech. And with each passing year, the country seems more convinced that while freedom of speech is important, how one practices that right can be problematic.

For example, Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) and the Polarization Research Lab (PRL) at Dartmouth College recently released a poll that revealed 69% of the 1,000 Americans they surveyed believe free speech is “heading in the wrong direction.” However, it’s noteworthy that their concerns stem from the growing inability for people “to freely express their views.” And “alarmingly,” the researchers wrote, roughly one-third of the Americans polled believe the First Amendment “goes too far in the rights it guarantees.”

The poll experimented with a variety of controversial statements, asking respondents to choose which ones they found most offensive. Out of the most surprising results, 52% felt their community “should not allow a public speech that espouses the belief they selected as the most offensive.” Additionally, “A supermajority, 69%, said their local college should not allow a professor who espoused that belief to teach classes.”

Reason magazine summarized, “These results indicate that though the average American is concerned about protecting free speech rights, a significant portion of the population seem poised to welcome increasing censorship.”

FIRE Chief Research Advisor Sean Stevens said the “results were disappointing, but not exactly surprising.” He continued, “Here at FIRE, we’ve long observed that many people who say they’re concerned about free speech waver when it comes to beliefs they personally find offensive.” But Stevens, as well as Family Research Council’s Joseph Backholm, believe the best way to protect free speech is, in fact, to protect the right to be potentially offensive or controversial.

Backholm, who serves as a senior fellow for Biblical Worldview and Strategic Engagement at FRC, commented to The Washington Stand, “It isn’t just that the First Amendment also protects offensive speech, it primarily exists to protect offensive speech.” He explained that there’s “no need to recognize the right to say, ‘I like tacos,’ because” most people wouldn’t see a reason to silence that. The entire reason for the constitutional guarantee to the freedom of speech,” he added, “is because the Founders understood the government’s instinct to stop people from saying things the government disliked.”

Especially with the rise of cancel culture, Backholm emphasized, “A lot of people today believe there is a constitutional right not to be offended.” Additionally, they also often “believe the right not to be offended is of greater importance than the freedom of speech,” which he noted is commonly the reason why “pronoun laws and campus safe spaces” are created. “Yes, there are limits to free speech, but those limits are not triggered by the emotional stress associated with discovering there are people in the world who disagree with you,” he said.

As for the Americans in the poll who are more worried about offensive beliefs being freely expressed, Backholm said, “The problem with restricting ‘offensive’ speech is that different things are offensive to different people. The pro-life position is offensive to some while the pro-abortion position is offensive to others.” Ultimately, it begs the question: Should all conversations about the issue be banned? To which he answered, “Obviously not.”

Stevens emphasized the importance of teaching this generation about the value and meaning of the First Amendment. “These findings should be a wake-up call for the nation to recommit to a vibrant free speech culture before it’s too late.” Because, as Backholm concluded, “If we want to be free, and most of us do, we must accept the fact that being exposed to ideas and behaviors we dislike is the cost of being able to do and say things other people don’t like.”


Sarah Holliday

Sarah Holliday is a reporter at The Washington Stand.


EDITORS NOTE: This Washington Stand column is republished with permission. All rights reserved. ©2024 Family Research Council.

The Washington Stand is Family Research Council’s outlet for news and commentary from a biblical worldview. The Washington Stand is based in Washington, D.C. and is published by FRC, whose mission is to advance faith, family, and freedom in public policy and the culture from a biblical worldview. We invite you to stand with us by partnering with FRC.

How to Stop the ‘Christian Genocide’ in the Middle East

Nina Shea, director of the Hudson Institute Center for Religious Freedom in Washington, D.C. is a long term friend and advocate for relief and protection of threatened Christians and other ethnic and religious minorities in the Middle East. All threatened with extinction by the genocidal Salafist barbarity and havoc wreaked upon them by the Islamic State, Daesh in Arabic.

As you will read in her National Review on-line article of today’s announcement by Secretary Kerry, she pragmatically judges this as a necessary, overdue, but useful action, “John Kerry’s Righteous Genocide Designation and Policy Challenges Ahead.” It is only the second time this has occurred in over a decade since former Secretary Colin Powell accused Sudan of Genocide in Darfur. As she noted it almost didn’t happen.

Secretary of State Kerry announcing Daesh Genocide Declaration, State Department

Secretary of State Kerry announcing Islamic State Genocide Declaration, State Department on March 17, 2016.

Watch Secretary Kerry’s announcement of the Genocide Declaration.

Shea also articulates five important policy initiatives that have to be taken to assure protection of those displaced, who have lost property and who chose to remain in their ancestral lands require reconstruction assistance. Because, she and others have written, many of Christians and other minorities who are internally displaced persons have chosen not to enter UN Refugee centers for fear of loss of life. Because of UN control over global refugee resettlement, they have been vastly underrepresented in U.S. Refugee Admission program in contrast to Syrian refugees and other predominately Muslim groups.

Today’s announcement by Kerry should be heartening news to others who have been in forefront of advocating this much needed step by the Administration; Joseph Kassab of the Iraqi, Christian Empowerment and Advocacy Institute, Canon Andrew Wright, the former Vicar of Baghdad, Tom Mooley and Faith J. McDonnell of The Institute On Religion and Democracy.

Shea sets the stage with today’s dramatic announcement coincident with St. Patrick’s Day:

Kerry’s announcement was a surprise, one that defied deliberately lowered expectations. There was a State Department notice just yesterday that any such designation required longer deliberation and wouldn’t be made in time to meet the March 17 congressionally mandated deadline.

But at 9:00 a.m. Eastern, Secretary of State Kerry took to the podium and asserted: “In my judgment, Daesh is responsible for genocide against groups in areas under its control, including Yazidis, Christians, and Shia Muslims. Daesh is genocidal by self-proclamation, by ideology, and by actions — in what it says, what it believes, and what it does.” This official American genocide designation is a critically important step. Genocide is internationally recognized as the most heinous human-rights offense. Legally, it is known as the “crime of crimes.” And while the Genocide Convention does not prescribe specific action to “prevent and protect” against genocide, the conscience does.

Why Kerry’s announcement was important:

This official American genocide designation is a critically important step. Genocide is internationally recognized as the most heinous human-rights offense. Legally, it is known as the “crime of crimes.” And while the Genocide Convention does not prescribe specific action to “prevent and protect” against genocide, the conscience does.

This designation will not only lift the morale of these shattered religious groups, it also has the potential of serving justice through the prosecution of those who aid and abet ISIS as fighters, cyber recruiters, financiers, arms suppliers, and artifact smugglers.

Military action is also important. Kerry discussed military measures that would help these victims of ISIS: “We are preparing for future efforts to liberate occupied territory — with an eye to the protection of minority communities. In particular, the liberation of Mosul, of Nineveh province in Iraq, and parts of Syria that are currently occupied by Daesh, and that will decide whether there is still a future for minority communities in this part of the Middle East. For those communities, the stakes in this campaign are utterly existential.”

But Pentagon action alone won’t be enough to preserve these besieged minorities. The genocide designation must also serve as a State Department policy platform to help the victims in several pragmatic ways, immediately and into the future.

Here are just five examples of how genocide designation can be used to focus and prioritize State’s help for these minorities:

  1. Refugee-resettlement visas: Christians from Syria have been grossly underrepresented in the numbers resettled in the U.S. from that country — only about 60 Christians and 1 Yazidi over five years of Syria’s conflict have been given U.S. resettlement visas. In Iraq, most of the Christians and Yazidis are displaced in Iraqi Kurdistan, where they do not have resettlement rights. Because they technically remain in Iraq, they cannot claim refugee status and therefore are not included in refugee-referral programs. This de facto discrimination must end for these genocide victims, many of whom are too traumatized to ever return to their homes. In the event that their areas are not liberated, they all will have to be resettled in the West.
  2.  Land and property restitution: These minorities lost their homes, businesses, and farms to ISIS, and others have now taken possession of them. Governments must be pressed to give priority recognition to titles of the genocide victims.
  3. A place at the peace table: Christians are currently excluded from the Syrian peace talks, at which, eventually, borders will be redrawn and constitutions drafted. Their voices need to be included, lest they be marginalized in, or even shut out of, whatever replaces the old Syria.
  4. Humanitarian aid: Many of these genocide victims are now displaced from their homes. They cannot seek shelter in U.N. camps, because those places are too dangerous for minorities — and therefore they must depend heavily on church and private relief. Even as donor fatigue sets in as the conflicts persist, U.S. aid programs must ensure that these genocide victims are not shortchanged.
  5. Reconstruction aid: If and when they do return to their homes after the defeat of ISIS, the genocide victims will need help in reconstructing their houses, towns, and churches. America’s reconstruction aid to Iraq after the military surge was largely diverted away from the Christian areas by national and local governments. The U.S. government must recognize the specific challenges facing these minorities and provide greater and more direct help and greater transparency and oversight on their behalf. Secretary Kerry’s fine words, “What Daesh wants to erase, we must preserve,” cannot be made a reality without this. These issues are urgent.

The situation on the ground is dire. And the U.S. government will soon be in transition. A policy road-map and action to implement it cannot wait. In his announcement today, Secretary Kerry took pains to point out that he is “neither judge, nor prosecutor, nor jury with respect to the allegations of genocide,” and that a formal legal and judicial procedure will be needed. But his genocide designation today was a bold step, and he has the power, now, to make it a significant one.

RELATED ARTICLE: Iraqi Priest Grateful That John Kerry Recognizes ISIS Atrocities Against Christians as Genocide

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review. Note that Secretary of State Kerry now refers to the Islamic State as Daesh. This is the politically correct term being pushed by Muslim groups to decouple the word Islam from the Islamic State.

U.S. State Department Genocide Victim Ruling Excludes Middle East Christians

Nina Shea of the Washington, D.C.-based Hudson Institute Center for Religious Freedman is the most outspoken critic of Administration policies towards Middle Eastern Christian and other non-Muslim religious minorities.  The latest episode concerns a proposed ruling by the State Department of minorities threatened by extinction by the Islamic State, as a predicate for possible rescue, asylum determinations and assistance. Incredibly this ruling excludes, those Christians in Syria and Iraq, who are threatened with extinction by ISIS barbarity.. Shea writes about this in a National Review On-line article, “ISIS Genocide Victims Do Not Include Christians, the State Department Is Poised to Rule.

The State Department official poised to issue the ruling is none other than Anne Patterson, former U.S. Ambassador to Egypt, and now Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of Near East Affairs. Patterson was a controversial figure and supporter of ousted Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, a Muslim Brotherhood leader.

Shea cites an investigative  report by Michael Isikoff about the callous rationale behind why Patterson chose to Include Yazidis, but exclude Syriac and, especially Chaldean Christians:

Yazidis, according to the story by investigative reporter Michael Isikoff, are going to be officially recognized as genocide victims, and rightly so. Yet Christians, who are also among the most vulnerable religious minority groups that have been deliberately and mercilessly targeted for eradication by ISIS, are not. This is not an academic matter. A genocide designation would have significant policy implications for American efforts to restore property and lands taken from the minority groups and for offers of aid, asylum, and other protections to such victims. Worse, it would mean that, under the Genocide Convention, the United States and other governments would not be bound to act to suppress or even prevent the genocide of these Christians.

The rationale for Patterson ruling:

An unnamed State Department official was quoted by Isikoff as saying that only the attacks on Yazidis have made “the high bar” of the genocide standard and as pointing to the mass killing of 1,000 Yazidi men and the enslavement of thousands of Yazidi women and girls. To propose that Christians have been simply driven off their land but not suffered similar fates is deeply misinformed. In fact, the last Christians to pray in the language spoken by Jesus are also being deliberately targeted for extinction through equally brutal measures. Christians have been executed by the thousands. Christian women and girls are vulnerable to sexual enslavement. Many of their clergy have been assassinated and their churches and ancient monasteries demolished or desecrated. They have been systematically stripped of all their wealth, and those too elderly or sick to flee ISIS-controlled territory have been forcibly converted to Islam or killed, such as an 80-year-old woman who was burned to death for refusing to abide by ISIS religious rules.

Shea notes the clear evidence of ISIS atrocities against  Christian communities in Syria and Iraq;

ISIS atrocities against Christians became public in June 2014 when the jihadists stamped Christian homes in Mosul with the red letter N for “Nazarene” and began enforcing its “convert or die” policy. The atrocities continue. Recently the Melkite Catholic bishop of Aleppo reported that 1,000 Christians, including two Orthodox bishops, have been kidnapped and murdered in his city alone. In September, ISIS executed, on videotape, three Assyrian Christian men and threatened to do the same to 200 more being held captive by the terrorist group. Recent reports by an American Christian aid group state that several Christians who refused to renounce their faith were raped, beheaded, or crucified a few months ago.

Christian women and girls are also enslaved and sexually abused. Three Christian females sold in ISIS slave markets were profiled in a New York Times Magazine report last summer. ISIS rules allow Christian sabaya, that is, their sexual enslavement. Its magazine Dabiq explicitly approved the enslavement of Christian girls in Nigeria, and the jihadist group posted prices for Christian, as well as Yazidi, female slaves in Raqqa.

The Congressional response to the State Department exclusion of Christians-  H.R. 75:

In recent weeks, the stalwart Knights of Columbus have been placing emotionally searing ads in Politico and elsewhere advocating the passage of H.R. 75.

This bipartisan bill was initiated by Representative Jeff Fortenberry (R., Neb.) and Representative Anna Eshoo (D., Calif.) to declare that genocide is being faced by Christians, Yazidis, and other vulnerable groups. The ads — depicting a mother and child, who appear as the very personifications of grief, against a landscape of ISIS destruction — might strike a nerve within the Obama administration. But as of now, the administration looks poised to preempt the bill and render a grave injustice to the suffering Christians of Iraq and Syria.

One who knows how dangerous this misbegotten ruling by Patterson is Joseph Kassab, President of the Iraqi Christian Advocacy and Empowerment Institution. (See out interview with Kassab in the November, NER: Iraqi Christians Face Extinction.  Note this exchange with Kassab:

Gordon:  How threatening is the ISIS genocide towards Assyrian–Chaldean Christian communities in both Iraq and Syria?

Kassab:  ISIS brutalities and atrocities committed against innocent Christians and Yazidis in Iraq is a very serious issue that needs to be immediately confronted by the international community. These evil acts of ISIS are leading to serious cultural and human genocide. ISIS’ acts of brutality are intentional to gain the attention of the world and the global media is falling for it. Our suggestion is not to fall for it as it is better to look into their evil Islamic ideology and expose it to the world.

Kassab voiced  prescient concern about the fate of his Chaldean Christian  co-religionists following the fall of Mosul to ISIS in June 2014. Watch this  You Tube Overview video interview by Raymond Arroyo with Kassab. Note Kassab’s prediction of the fate that may already  have be fallen Iraqi Christians, extinction;  if assistance is not speedily  forthcoming from the Administration.

Over a year has passed since Iraqi Christians fled from Mosul and the Biblical Nineveh plains. They languish ill-housed as urban refugees in Iraqi Kurdistan. They are without prospects for sanctuary in the West and Diaspora, because they allegedly do not qualify for asylum status under UN definitions applied by the State Department Bureau of population, Migration and Refugees.  Now, Assistant Secretary Patterson is poised to deprive Syrian and Iraqi Christians of sanctuary here in the US. Despite, as Kassab has demonstrated they have been vetted and accredited for possible P2/P3 Family reunification Visas.

The mean-spiritedness of Patterson and the State Department may assign these ancient Christian minorities to possible extinction with this proposed Genocide ruling. Their behavior is appalling and beyond contempt. All Americans should be outraged. They should press for passage of H.R. 75 by the House effectively rebuking this incredulous State Department proposed ruling.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review. The featured image is of the two blindfolded men, shaved by Islamic militants, who were crucified for their belief in Christianity.