Helene Cooper of The New York Times is reporting that President Barack Obama, during his address to the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday, called for freedom of speech as a universal right. His 30-minute speech in front of the General Assembly came in the face of recent anti-American activity, including the killing of the U.S. ambassador to Libya earlier this month. President Obama used his platform to encourage this freedom as a “weapon” against hate speech and violence. Additionally, he maintained that “restrictions on speech can be used to oppress minorities.”
“‘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,’ Mr. Obama said. ‘And I will defend their right to do so.’ For that, he received cheers in the cavernous hall.
The president worked to explain — before a sometimes skeptical audience that has never completely bought into the American idea that even hateful speech is protected — why the United States values its First Amendment so highly.
‘We do so because in a diverse society, efforts to restrict speech can become a tool to silence critics, or oppress minorities,’ Mr. Obama said. ‘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.’ He said Americans ‘have fought and died around the globe to protect the right of all people to express their view.'”
In his address to the General Assembly, President Obama also discussed his position on nuclear arms in Iran and the overall state of democracy in Arab nations.