Flashback: DOJ Official Won’t Affirm Religious Free Speech in U.S.

By Elizabeth Harrington | September 18, 2012 | 8:22am EDT

Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez. (AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) – At a House subcommittee hearing in late July, Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez refused to say if the Obama administration would ever attempt to criminalize speech against religion.

Perez’s remarks came just months before an obscure anti-Islamic film was blamed for attacks on U.S. embassies and consulates in Cairo, Egypt and Benghazi, Libya. The violence left four Americans dead, including Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens. The protests continue to spread throughout the Middle East.

As CNSNews.com reported, during a July 27 oversight hearing, Perez four times avoided answering a question about whether the Obama administration would seek restrictions on religious speech when pressed by Constitution Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.).

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Perez called it a "hard question."

A transcript of the exchange -- aired Monday night on the Mark Levin show -- follows:

Rep. Trent Franks: Will you tell us here today, simply, that this administration’s Department of Justice will never entertain or advance a proposal that criminalizes speech against any religion?

Thomas Perez: Sir, I would, I want to, as I said before, you referenced as context for your question the article from—

Rep. Trent Franks: Well, there’s no context on this question.  I’m just asking you—all right, let me ask a new question.  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?

Perez: Well, again sir—

Rep. Trent Franks: That’s not a hard question.

Perez: Actually it is a hard question in the sense that when you make threats against someone, ‘I’m going to kill you—

Rep. Trent Franks: No, I’m asking you here today, will you tell us here today that this Department of Justice will never entertain or advance a proposal to criminalize speech against any religion?

Perez: Again sir.  If you have a proposal that you are considering we will actively review that proposal and offer our—

Rep. Trent Franks: Okay, here’s my proposal.  I’m asking you to answer a question, that’s my proposal.  I’m proposing that you answer this question.  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?

Perez: Again sir, if you give me the context of the question.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.): Mr. Chairman, will the gentleman yield for a second?

Rep. Trent Franks: I will not yield, but I will let—

Rep. Nadler: I think we can straighten this out.

Rep. Trent Franks: I will not yield.

Rep. Nadler: You’re not interested in an answer then?

Rep. Trent Franks: I’ve tried to get an answer four times.

Rep. Nadler: If I rephrase the question, you may get an answer.

Rep. Trent Franks: I appreciate that but I’m asking my own questions and I’ll certainly allow you to ask yours.

Rep. Nadler: The Chairman is taking a second round, can I ask a question then of Mr. Perez?

Rep. Trent Franks: If we take a second round.

Rep. Nadler: We just did.

Rep. Trent Franks: No we didn’t, I’m yielded time.  Anyway, I’m going 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.

Numerous clerics have called for an international blasphemy law that would ban insults to Islam since protests erupted throughout the Middle East purportedly against the anti-Islamic film, "The Innocence of Muslims."

Several reports and Libyan President Mohamed Yousef El-Magariaf have indicated that the initial attack in Benghazi, in which the assailants had rocket-propelled grenades, was pre-planned to coincide with the 11th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on 9/11.  The Obama administration, however, has denied the strikes were coordinated, and has placed the blame solely on the film.

“This is not an expression of hostility in the broadest sense towards the United States or to U.S. policy,” said U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice in an appearance on “Fox News Sunday.”  “It's proximately a reaction to this video and it's a hateful video -- that had nothing to do with the United States -- which we find disgusting and reprehensible.”

Early Saturday the filmmaker, an Egyptian Coptic Christian named Nakoula Besseley Nakoula, was taken into custody for questioning about alleged probation violations for an earlier fraud conviction.

The administration asked Youtube to review the movie trailer to see if it violated their terms of use, though it was not removed.

After the attack in Cairo, Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi called blasphemy a “red line for all Muslims,” and asked President Obama to “put an end to such behavior,” referring to the film.

“We do not accept and we consider an enemy anyone who assaults our prophet through words or deeds,” he said, according to Al-Masry al-Youm. “I represent all the Egyptian people, I deprecate and I stand against whoever tries to abuse or exercise abuse of any kind against our prophet or any of the Islamic holy sites.”

The Egyptian cabinet also called on the Obama administration to take legal action against those responsible, as did the Muslim Brotherhood, which also called for “assaults on the sanctities of all heavenly religions” – that is, blasphemy – to be criminalized.

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