Will the United Nations soon be issuing fatwas? Today the U.N. Human Rights Council is expected to vote on a resolution introduced by Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference to combat defamation of religion, in particular Islam. This resolution is part of an effort begun in 1999 to establish an international framework that would in practice legitimize religious oppression. It is an assault on the rights of the individual and freedom of conscience.

The language of the resolution seems benign enough, condemning stereotyping, inflammatory statements and so forth. But very troubling is the elasticity of the term "defamation." It is used to silence social critics and other liberal voices in countries where the law is captive of the official religion. "Anti-blasphemy" statutes in Shariah-based legal systems squelch debate over the rights of women, the right to free speech and expression, privacy, criminal justice and a variety of other off-limits issues. This U.N. resolution would give further international sanction to every authoritarian regime that hides its oppression behind the veil of faith.

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