DOJ Official Won’t Say Whether Justice Department Would ‘Criminalize Speech against Any Religion’

Melanie Arter | July 26, 2012 | 5:26pm EDT
Font Size

President Obama looks on as Eric Holder puts his hand on the Bible and is sworn in as attorney general of the United States. (AP Photo)

( Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Thomas Perez refused to say Thursday whether the Justice Department would ever “entertain or advance a proposal that criminalizes speech against any religion.”

During a House subcommittee hearing examining fairness in voting rights enforcement, Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Constitution, referenced an article detailing a meeting between top Justice Department officials and Islamist advocates, where the advocates reportedly lobbied officials for “a legal declaration that U.S. citizens’ criticism of Islam constitutes racial discrimination.”

“We must continue to have the open and honest and critical dialogue that you saw in the robust debate,” Perez was quoted as saying. “I sat here the entire time, taking notes,” he said. “I have some very concrete thoughts … in the aftermath of this.”

Also at the meeting, according to the article, was Mohamed Magid, president of the Islamic Society of North America, an unindicted co-conspirator in the 2009 trial of three Muslims convicted of smuggling $12 million to Hamas.

If the player does not load, please check that you are running the latest version of Adobe Flash Player.

“What were the concrete thoughts after the meeting with, among others, a leader of an unindicted co-conspirator organization and the largest terror finance trial in the history after hearing a blatantly unconstitutional proposal to destroy First Amendment free speech rights of Americans by outlawing criticism of a religion?” Franks asked Perez at the hearing.

“According to the article, no one at Justice, including you, objected to this call to aggregate free speech. Americans would be shocked to learn that their Justice officials and unindicted co-conspirators in a terrorism trial huddled together to discuss ways to take away Americans’ freedom of speech,” Franks continued.

“Will you tell us here today, and I apologize for having to hurry. Will you tell us here today that this administration’s Department of Justice will never again entertain or advance a proposal that criminalizes speech against any religion?” he asked Perez.

Perez responded that he was not familiar with the context of the article that Franks described and that he had not seen the article.

“I would have to read the article in order to understand the context of the article. What I can tell you is that the Department of Justice aggressively enforces all of the civil rights laws, including laws that protect religious authorities,” Perez said.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) noted that other congressmen he had not seen the article either.

“Point of order, Mr. Chairman, we haven’t seen that article either, and I think it behooves us that before scurrilous accusations are made or at least at the same time scurrilous accusations are made we see the article and the context so that we know what you’re talking about.”

“Fair enough. I would place this in the record without objection,” Franks said.

Later in the hearing, Franks brought up the issue again, asking Perez pointedly, “Will you tell us here today that this administration’s Department of Justice will never entertain or advance a proposal that criminalizes speech against any religion?

When Perez didn’t answer the question, Franks said, “Now that’s not a hard question.”

“Actually, it is a hard question in the sense that when you make threats against someone …” Perez replied before Franks cut him off and asked him the question twice more.

Nadler interrupted Franks’ line of questioning. “Will the gentleman yield for a second?”

“I will not yield,” Franks said. “You’re not interested in an answer then,” Nadler said.

“I’ve tried to get an answer four times,” Franks said. “Rephrase the question. You may get an answer,” Nadler replied.

“I appreciate that, but I’m asking my own questions. I’ll certainly allow you to ask yours,” Franks said.

“Anyway, I want to get an answer to a fairly basic question here. If the Department of Justice can’t even answer the question whether they will entertain or advance a proposal that criminalizes speech against any religion, then it’s pretty late in the day,” Franks added.

mrc merch