It is happening again. Free speech is under attack at the United Nations. And, once again religious liberty is in the crosshairs.
Earlier this month, a prominent NGO (nongovernmental organization), the Center for Reproductive Rights, made a formal argument to the United Nations Committee Against Torture that the Catholic Church’s pro-life speech actually tortures women and girls.
Yes, that was their argument: that efforts to save children’s lives – to spare them from the horror of abortion – constituted “torture” within the meaning of the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
Here is what the Center for Reproductive Rights urges the U.N. Committee to do:
Note that the Holy See has negatively interfered with states’ attempts to develop legislation on abortion that would have served to better protect women from torture or ill-treatment. Note that the Holy See’s actions are a violation of Articles 1, 2, and 16 of the Convention against Torture and that the rights of freedom of speech and of religion extend only so far as they do not undermine women’s reproductive rights, including the right to be free from torture or ill-treatment.
To understand the absurdity of this argument, one only needs to read the definition of torture in Article 1 of the Convention:
For the purposes of this Convention, the term "torture" means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.
Simply put, there is no rational reading of this definition that would encompass a church urging women to spare their child’s life or would encompass political leaders urging their governments to pass pro-life legislation.
In fact, the reasoning is exactly backward. Abortion not only destroys a human life, it does so in a particularly grotesque and brutal way. Moreover, in many countries and cultures children are killed – through sex-selective abortion – merely for the “crime” of being a girl.
Applying the definition of the Convention, abortion inflicts “severe pain and suffering” with the “consent or acquiescence” of public officials, often based on “discrimination” on the basis of sex.
If the word “torture” belongs in this debate at all, it would describe the world’s abortion-on-demand regimes, not the actions of a church dedicated to the sanctity of life.
But this is the U.N., and rationality does not always reign.
In fact, the U.N. has a disturbing recent history of attempting to restrict free speech and religious freedom.
For years, U.N. “human rights” committees passed anti-blasphemy resolutions that prohibited “defamation against religions.” The resolutions, strongly advocated by the U.N.’s Muslim nations, would have protected the Muslim faith from public criticism, including from criticism of the violent extremes of Shariah law. Christian evangelism would have violated international law.
This effort was only defeated after strong American leadership, from a Bush Administration that was committed to defending religious liberty. Following the American lead, the EU also eventually opposed, and the measure died.
Will American leadership defend free speech and religious liberty in today’s U.N.?
Given its radical commitment to abortion-on-demand, mandating that even Christian employers pay for abortifacients, I have no confidence it will uphold religious liberty abroad.
Pro-life speech is under constant attack, and I know that better than most. Years ago, I had the privilege of defending pro-life speech at the Supreme Court, when I argued Hill v. Colorado, a case where the Supreme Court tragically sided with the censors and determined that pro-life Americans had fewer free speech rights than their pro-abortion fellow citizens.
This latest attempt to shut down free speech at the U.N. should be of grave concern to all.
At the American Center for Law and Justice we understand that international law can find its way even into American courts, and if we wait to defend religious liberty until the threat comes home, we’ve often waited too late.
That is exactly why we’re engaging directly at the U.N. through our affiliate, the European Centre for Law and Justice – standing up for religious freedom and free speech.
It’s obvious that the Church’s enduring moral witness has provoked the abortion lobby in this latest attack on free speech. That witness must not be silenced.
Jay Sekulow is Chief Counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which focuses on constitutional law. He also serves as a member of President Trump’s legal team. Follow him on Twitter @JaySekulow.