Published September 13, 2012
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, looking to calm demonstrations purportedly over an anti-Islam film, tried Thursday to give the rest of the world a lesson in the First Amendment.
Clinton, speaking slowly and in plain language, explained Thursday that the United States government cannot stop videos or other potentially offensive materials from being produced.
And, she said, "violence in response to speech is not acceptable."
Clinton made the comments at the State Department, before the start of a "strategic dialogue" between the U.S. and Morocco. It was a deliberate effort by the secretary to explain to societies that might not have the kinds of protections on speech enjoyed in the U.S. why material considered by Muslims to be blasphemous is allowed inside America.
"I know it is hard for some people to understand why the United States cannot or does not just prevent these kinds of reprehensible videos from ever seeing the light of day," she said. "In today's world with today's technologies, that is impossible. But even if it was possible, our country does have a long tradition of free expression which is enshrined in our constitution and our law.
"And we do not stop individual citizens from expressing their views no matter how distasteful they may be."
Clinton also made clear that the U.S. government had nothing to do with the making of the video, and that she finds it "disgusting and reprehensible."
Still, she said, we "must draw the line at violence."
"And any responsible leader should be standing up now and drawing that line," she said.
Clinton discussed the free-speech basics as demonstrations spread to Yemen Thursday and continued into their third day outside the U.S. Embassy in Cairo. Four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya, were killed Tuesday in an attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi.
Speaking later in the afternoon Thursday, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland urged media to disseminate the secretary's comments on free speech, calling them "extremely intentional" and aimed at those who might not understand American "culture and society."
"We are concerned that this is not understood well," Nuland said.
James Carafano, a foreign policy and defense analyst with the Heritage Foundation, said these kinds of statements are exactly what the State Department should be making.
"It's the job of the State Department to explain the United States to the rest of the world," he said. But he noted it might be "a day late and dollar short," considering concerns over an initial Cairo embassy statement that critics said expressed sympathy toward the demonstrators.