US opposes Nazi speech, but won't vote at UN to ban it

The United States plans to vote at the United Nations against a yearly resolution condemning the glorification of Nazism, State Department officials said Wednesday, adding an odd complication to a seeming point of international agreement.

Although it may seem strange -- condemning Nazis is typically a political no-brainer -- U.S. officials said free speech protections and other problems with the resolution makes it imprudent for America to support the document.

Introduced by Russia, the resolution calls on all U.N. nations to ban pro-Nazi speech and organizations, and to implement other restrictions on speech and assembly. That's a non-starter in the U.S., where First Amendment protections guarantee all the right to utter almost anything they want — even praise for Adolf Hitler and his ideology.

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The U.S., along with just a handful of other countries, votes against the resolution every year, while the European Union nations and some others typically abstain. The resolution always passes overwhelmingly.

But this year, the "no" vote from the U.S. is likely to create more of a stir, given it's the first vote since President Trump took office. Trump's critics have said he's insufficiently critical of neo-Nazis.

So U.S. officials are working overtime this year to try to explain that "no" vote: America doesn't support pro-Nazi speech — but can't vote for a resolution that calls for outlawing it, either. The vote is scheduled for Thursday.

All resolutions in the General Assembly committees are non-binding and none impose any legal requirements on member nations. But American support for resolutions that contradict domestic law could end up being used as arguments in U.S. federal court, and officials worry about undermining national law enforcement efforts.

A similar drama bedeviled the Trump administration last month when the U.S. voted against a resolution at the U.N. Human Rights Council condemning the use of the death penalty to punish homosexuality — another apparent no-brainer. The U.S. couldn't vote for that because of the resolution's broader condemnation of the death penalty, even though the U.S. adamantly opposes capital punishment for homosexuality, blasphemy, adultery and apostasy, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said at the time.

A man walks with a bloody lip as demonstrators yell at him outside the location where Richard Spencer, an avowed white nationalist and spokesperson for the so-called alt-right movement, is delivering a speech on the campus of the University of Florida in Gainesville, Florida, U.S., October 19, 2017. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton/File photo  SEARCH "ALT-RIGHT FLORIDA" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY. - RC148675D100

A man wearing a shirt with swastikas walks outside the location where white nationalist Richard Spencer gives a speech.  (Reuters)

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“The United States clearly has the death penalty, both at the state and at the federal level,” Nauert said. “That is why we voted against this.”

In addition, the U.S. has long expressed concerns that Russia uses the annual resolution to mount political attacks against its neighbors. That's because Moscow has for decades sought to portray the Baltic states and others that sought independence from Soviet domination as either pro-fascist or pro-Nazi, U.S. officials said.

In the past, Israel has voted for the resolution. But Washington has been pushing the Jewish state to vote “no” this year, or at a minimum to abstain. But it's unclear how Israel will vote. A spokesman for Israel's mission to the U.N. didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.