Editorial: Can’t Yell Fire in a Theater or use Fire to burn the Holy Quran

From Pope Francis to Amb. Omar Hilale

Must read

July 31, 2023

The Holy Father, Pope Francis, on March 20, 2013, met with leaders of all faiths – to prove by deed – that respect for all faith was essential, while urging members of all religions (or no religion) to unite to defend justice, peace and the environment. Pope Francis, then-elected a week earlier, is the first non-European Pope in 1,300 years, and he, making history, met with leaders of non-Catholic Christian religions such as: Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Orthodox Christian, Anglicans, Lutherans and Methodists.

Ten years later, on July 25, 2023, Morocco’s distinguished Ambassador Omar Hilale spoke up in the United Nations – which I called the “Vatican of Hope” and the P. R.s as “Arch Angels” at the annual 2022 “Diwali Stamp – Power of One Awards” ceremony, aka Oscars of Diplomacy, in Trusteeship Council in UN – in support of a draft Resolution: “Promoting inter-religious and intercultural dialogue and tolerance in countering hate speech.” And, then he took the floor again to decline a friendly amendment – grounded in Freedom of Speech – to not subjugate Freedom of Religion, essentially to argue, in my view and words, the need for “inviolability” of “Freedom of Religion” from “Freedom of Speech.”

While on September 22, 1999, then-Mayor Rudy Guiliani threatened to cut off funding for a Brooklyn “art exhibition” that included a repulsive “Madonna in a jar of urine,” with a devout Catholic, then-Speaker Peter F. Vallone, who is a dear personal friend of nearly four decades, refusing to any funds-cut, painfully citing Constitutional protection. I, then, as head of New York County Lawyers Association Tort Law Section recognized dear St. Pete, my lifelong nickname for him, by awarding him our highest Award – with the honor of presentment with then-Mr. Justice Stephen G. Crane, and with then-NYC Council’s General Counsel Richard M. Weinberg assisting (the four of us being the “Four Musketeers” over four decades) – for his painfully observing the Constitutional First Amendment right of Free Speech. Recently, with the Quran-burning in Sweden by a non-Swede and triggering Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan objection to Sweden’s admission into NATO, and only upon President Joe Biden’s intervention and Sweden’s helpful remedial actions, Sweden was allowed in. In the last quarter century, my views have evolved.

While “Freedom of Speech” and “Freedom of Religion” are both enshrined in the First Amendment to our exceptional Constitution, Freedom of Speech is subject to limitations under secular rule of law, including, defamation and the famous prohibition of: you can’t yell “fire” in a crowded theater, as it causes injury to innocent people. But Freedom of Religion is better protected in Constitutional review and analysis, by subjecting it to only Neutral Law principles, a sort of “inviolability” within the rule of law. When Pope Francis in 2013 urged “respect” for all faiths, and on March 15, 2019, urged complete solidarity with all Muslims after the heinous massacre in two Mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, I fully supported his twin stances, and my evolution from “Free Speech” triumphing “Religious Freedom,” to circumscribing Free Speech that offends or injures innocents – when “Fire” is yelled or used to burn the Quran – had started, and with the recent Sweden-event that caused Turkey’s NATO-Veto, my evolution was complete. So, I heartily welcome and support the condemnation of Hate Speech, being stripped of Constitutional protections, and applaud my dear brother, the honorable Omar Hilale’s principled Resolution – as a result of Morocco’s King Mohammed VI’s stance during the Fez Conference, convened jointly with dear USG Miguel A. Moratinos, as head of UNAOC – and it’s passage.

UN General Assembly adopted on July 25, 2023, a landmark resolution on hate speech A/77/L.89, initiated, facilitated and presented by Morocco, and co-sponsored by 48 Member States. It built on prior resolutions 73/328 (2019) and 75/309 (2021), also initiated and facilitated by Morocco’s Amb. Hilale! This latest historic Resolution was adopted by consensus of the member states.

To follow, please enjoy: I. Amb. Omar Hilale’s Remarks presenting the Draft Resolution; II. the Additional remarks declining the friendly amendment; and III. the historic anti-Hate Speech Resolution, now adopted.

Respect for all Faiths – be it urged by dear Pope Francis or by dear Amb. Omar Hilale – must be Page One news to be celebrated by all humanity, who wishes to pray in peace, and to “walk humbly with thy God.”

Ravi Batra



I. Presentation by his Excellency Ambassador Omar HILALE of the draft resolution on “Promoting interreligious and intercultural dialogue and tolerance in countering hate speech”

Mr. Chairman

Excellencies, Dear Colleagues,

I am pleased to present to you today the draft resolution (A/77/L.89) entitled: “Promoting interreligious and intercultural dialogue and tolerance in countering hate speech “. This draft is a continuation of the historic General Assembly resolution (73/328), the first of its kind on hate speech, adopted in 2019, as well as the subsequent resolution (75/309) proclaiming, in 2021, June 18 of each year as ”International Day against Hate Speech.”

This new text, presented under item 14 of the General Assembly Agenda, aims primarily to reinforce our collective commitment to promoting a culture of peace and non-violence for the sake of humanity and future generations, and to reiterate the importance and duty of collectively combating hate speech, in all its forms and manifestations. This priority is particularly pressing given that these recent months have been marked by an exponential exacerbation and alarming rise in hate speech.

The Kingdom of Morocco, in accordance with the High Instructions of His Majesty King Mohammed VI, Commander of the Faithful, became aware, at an early stage, of the danger of hate speech spread by violent extremism, obscurantism, populism and racism of all kinds. In His Royal Address at the opening ceremony of the 9th Forum of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations, held in Fez in November 2022, His Majesty stressed, and I quote: ” Never before has our civilization been so exposed; never before has ‘living together’ come under such a threat, on a daily basis; Rarely has the Other been perceived with such a level of suspicion, or used to stir up fear and foment hatred; Radical positions are permeating the debate and cancelling out moderate voices; religions are too often manipulated, when they are not simply stigmatized; Populism is rocking societies and inventing questions without answering them, except to brandish migration as a scarecrow or an electoral weapon, and to turn migrants into scapegoats;

In order to face up to these multiple threats, the Sovereign has called for a united vision of the world. In His Royal Message to participants at the Parliamentary Conference on “Interfaith dialogue: working together for our common future”, held in Marrakech in June 2023, His Majesty the King stressed that: The bleak picture reflected by the conflict of beliefs in the world today should not obscure the positive and bright aspects, nor the bold initiatives launched to strengthen communication and consolidate values rooted in tolerance, understanding and coexistence between the members of the international community, and between followers of different faiths.

Thus, this draft resolution stems from this humanist vision of both human and inter-state relations based on confessional coexistence and intercultural harmony. It is the result of three rounds of substantial negotiations and several bilateral discussions. To this end, the Moroccan facilitator has adopted a transparent, open and inclusive approach with the aim of federating all goodwill around the noble and humanist cause of this draft resolution.

The current text, which I have the honor of presenting to you, reaffirms that hate speech, and all forms of intolerance associated with it, can encourage the outbreak, intensification and recurrence of conflicts, and undermine initiatives aimed at tackling the root causes of conflict, preventing and resolving conflicts, as well as reconciliation, reconstruction and peace-building efforts.

Furthermore, the draft resolution notes with deep concern the increasing number of cases of discrimination, intolerance and violence targeting members of many religious communities, including cases motivated by Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, Christianophobia, as well as acts of violence motivated by discrimination against persons belonging to religious minorities.

In addition, the text strongly deplores all acts of violence aimed at individuals on account of their religion or beliefs, and all those targeting their religious symbols, holy books, homes, businesses, property, schools, cultural centers or places of worship, in violation of international law.

Furthermore, this draft resolution sets out three concrete actions for multilateral commitment, for which the UN will act as a catalyst, in order to jointly strengthen the efforts to combat hate speech, racism and discrimination:

  • Firstly, it stresses the importance of working towards an intergovernmentally agreed definition of hate speech that can help combat it, in accordance with international law;
  • Secondly, it calls for the organization, in 2025, of a world conference on combating hate speech through the promotion of interreligious and intercultural dialogue and tolerance;
  • Thirdly, it calls on Member States and Social Media to support active systems to combat hate speech and prevent its increasing spread, and to promote user access to effective reporting mechanisms, in a manner compatible with international human rights law.

I could not conclude without expressing the Kingdom of Morocco’s warm gratitude to all the delegations who, throughout the negotiation process, contributed constructively to the enrichment of this draft resolution. I would also like to warmly thank the delegations that have already co-sponsored this initiative, and I am counting on the support and co-sponsorship of other delegations that have not yet done so.

I Thank you all.

II. Intervention of His Excellency Ambassador Omar HILALE following the amendment by the EU for the Preamble Paragraph 13

“Mr. Chairman, I asked for the floor to react to the speech made by my colleague from Spain on behalf of the European Union, and the United Kingdom, on the subject of paragraph 13. I would like to say that we are somewhat surprised, even with great regret, that this amendment could be tabled, because paragraph 13 does not bring anything new, especially as regards the reference to international law. I would like to point out here that paragraph 13 repeats verbatim the language of PP9 of resolution 73/328 and PP10 of resolution 75/309. Thus, the mention, and here I’m quoting in violation of international law, a quotation has always been included in the two previous resolutions on hate speech. However, with the addition of the reference to religious symbols and holy books, the promoters of this amendment do not want us to refer to international law.

I’d like to add another point, Mr. Chairman that the reference to religious symbols and Holy Books did not appear in the zero draft of our resolution. At no time did we want to make reference to them. However, there have been developments in certain countries that have forced the Arab and Muslim world to react. Some individuals burned the Quran, the Holy Book of 2 billion Muslims, in front of embassies. The latest act took place just this morning. These acts are repeated almost every two or three days, as if the world needed such acts.

Apparently the reactions of our States, with communiqués, with declarations and even the reaction of those countries that do not want this paragraph to be maintained, have not been sufficient. Those who perpetrate these acts of desecration, attacks on symbols and Holy Books, and here we’re talking about Holy Books in the plural, we’re not just talking about the Quran, it could be the Torah, it could be the Bible, we defend them all. We all have an obligation to respect the religious feelings of others. Burning a holy book is not freedom of expression, it’s an attack on people’s religious dignity, and it’s an attack on the faith of billions of human beings. As Rousseau said: “One person’s freedom ends where another’s begins”. This act is an attack on religious freedom, because it denies the other’s religion, it denies the other’s faith. An act of attack or desecration; burning a holy book of a religion is a negation of our religion. And when you proceed to deny the other’s religion, it’s also a denial of all those who believe in and confess that religion. So the comparison with freedom of expression is inappropriate in this area.

Let me remind you that a few years ago, when terrorists started giving out instructions and manuals for making homemade bombs or Kamikaze bombs, on the web, we used to say, “Be careful, we’ve got to ban this”, but we were told that this was freedom of expression. It took the birth of Daesh, it took a war, it took the destruction of a country, it took thousands of innocent people paying with their lives for this so-called freedom of expression. To be able to write what you want, to say what you want as long as it doesn’t affect others, that’s freedom of expression. And now these explanations of bombs and explosives making are forbidden. Even thinking, even traveling, even talking to a terrorist has become forbidden in the name of international law. It has taken almost fifteen years to get to this point. Do we have another fifteen years, or twenty, until there are deaths, innocent victims, for us to say that this is not freedom of expression?

I don’t want to get too carried away yet, Mr. Chairman, but I’d just like to say that we regret this amendment, which we vigorously reject. We would like to ask all those who believe in coexistence between religions, all those who defend freedom of worship, all those who are against Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, Christianophobia or any racism for reasons of color, ethnicity, origin or gender, all those who are driven by this spirit of living together, this spirit of living in harmony, this spirit of preserving our humanity which has suffered so much, which has so many other challenges, to please vote against this oral amendment. I hope we will vote together, collectively, because Morocco is initiating this resolution, as I said, as part of a continuum of resolutions on hate speech. We’re very happy, very proud of our initial initiative over the last few years, and when we talk about the Holy Books, we’re not defending our Quran, we’re defending all the books of all the members of the United Nations who are in this room, it’s a moral obligation and a political obligation. I also believe in saying that all religions call for coexistence and acceptance of the other. To accept someone burning the book of our religion is, as I said, simply to deny, reject and condemn the other. The world needs hope, needs coexistence, tolerance, understanding and, above all, solidarity in the face of fascism, extremism, populism and anything that might jeopardize harmony and coexistence between peoples, religions, cultures and civilizations.

So my final word, Mr. Chairman, is an appeal to all those who have supported us so far, and I hope the others too, to vote against this oral amendment, to remove an important element of PP13 from this draft resolution. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”

III. Historic Anti-Hate Speech Resolution passed:

Fullscreen Mode


Ravi Batra, Esq.
+ posts

Ravi Batra, starting September 11, 2021, is a publisher of The America Times Company Ltd., and since January 2022, is the Editor-in-Chief. He is a member of the National Press Club, in Washington D.C., and a member of its "Freedom of the Press" and "International Correspondents" Teams/Committees.

A member of the bar since 1981, he is the head of a boutique law firm in Manhattan, The Law Firm of Ravi Batra, P.C., that handles complex constitutional, sovereignty, torture, civil and criminal cases, representing governments, corporates and individuals, with landmark legal victories, including, libel in fiction, in “Batra v. Dick Wolf.” He is Chairman & CEO, Greenstar Global Energy Corp., King Danylo of Galicia International Ltd., Mars & Pax Advisors, Ltd., Chairman of National Advisory Council on South Asian Affairs, and since September 2021, Advisor for Legal and Humanitarian Affairs to the Permanent Mission of Georgia to the United Nations. He is invited by various governments to address High Level Ministerial events, including, on Counter-Terrorism, including, Astana (Nur-Sultan), Dushanbe, Minsk and Delhi. He has testified in Congress as an invitee of the Chair, U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee, and interacted with U.S. Department of State from 1984 -1990, and then again, from 2006, during the tenures of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Rex Tillerson, Mike Pompeo and Antony Blinken.

He has served as Commissioner of New York State Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE), Trustee on New York State IOLA Board, New York State Judicial Screening Committee for the Second Judicial Department, City Bar’s Judicial Committee, Vice-Chair of Kings County Democratic County Committee’s Independent Judicial Screening Committee for the then-2nd Judicial Department of Brooklyn and Staten Island, Chair of NYSTLA’ Judicial Independence Committee, with many more bar leadership roles, including, NYSBA’s House of Delegates for four years. He has served as Advisor for Legal & Human Rights Affairs to the Permanent Mission of Ukraine post-annexation of Crimea till 2021, and Legal Advisor to numerous nations’ permanent missions to the U. N. since 2009, including, India, Pakistan, Honduras and Malta. He has served: as Global Special Counsel to The Antonov Company in Ukraine, a state-owned company, and was registered with the Justice Dept pursuant to FARA; and as Special Global Advisor to Rector/President of both - National Aviation University of Ukraine and National Technical University of Ukraine/KPI. He remains involved in geopolitics and public policy since the mid-1980's, starting with being on House Speaker Tip O’Neill’s Speaker’s Club and appointed member of NACSAA during President Ronald Reagan’s tenure. In 1988, he was part of U.S. Attorney General Ed Meese’s Delegation to Japan to resolve bilateral trade imbalance. He regularly interacts with the multilateral diplomatic community, and during the High Level UNGA Debate, with heads of State/Government. He is sought for his views as a speaker and writer. 

More articles

Latest article