I am in New York for a few days. I arrived Wednesday for private sector meetings on supply chain resilience, catastrophe preparedness, and related. The city is packed for the opening of the United Nations.
When I checked in the guy in front of me asked the desk clerk, “How many Presidents do you have staying here?” “Too many,” she replied.
My President’s speech on Tuesday received considerable media attention, but most of the coverage I saw, heard, or read focused on either the Iranian nuclear issue or domestic political implications. Following are a few consecutive paragraphs that have — at least for me — important homeland security implications.
Before these remarks the President held up Ambassador Chris Stevens as an example, condemned the attacks on US diplomatic facilities, and called the video that catalyzed — or justified or created cover for — the violence “crude and disgusting.” Then he offered an explanation of the American right of free speech blending principle with pragmatism:
I know there are some who ask why we don’t just ban such a video. And the answer is enshrined in our laws: Our Constitution protects the right to practice free speech.
Here in the United States, countless publications provoke offense. Like me, the majority of Americans are Christian, and yet we do not ban blasphemy against our most sacred beliefs. As President of our country and Commander-in-Chief of our military, I accept that people are going to call me awful things every day and I will always defend their right to do so.
Americans have fought and died around the globe to protect the right of all people to express their views, even views that we profoundly disagree with. We do not do so because we support hateful speech, but because our founders understood that without such protections, the capacity of each individual to express their own views and practice their own faith may be threatened. We do so because in a diverse society, efforts to restrict speech can quickly become a tool to silence critics and oppress minorities.
We do so because given the power of faith in our lives, and the passion that religious differences can inflame, the strongest weapon against hateful speech is not repression; it is more speech — the voices of tolerance that rally against bigotry and blasphemy, and lift up the values of understanding and mutual respect.
Now, I know that not all countries in this body share this particular understanding of the protection of free speech. We recognize that. But in 2012, at a time when anyone with a cell phone can spread offensive views around the world with the click of a button, the notion that we can control the flow of information is obsolete. The question, then, is how do we respond?
It’s a question that is very much alive in the United States. When more control of information is advocated, the justification usually involves some aspect of homeland security. As Chris Bellavita recently reminded us, “the Preamble to the Constitution is especially relevant to homeland security. It offers – in 29 words – a majestic vision of the homeland security mission.” There can be trade-offs between security and liberty. But the homeland that matters most is secured by preserving liberty.