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White House Announces Executive Order To Protect Muslim Feelings – But Offends In Process

Related: Film review: Innocence of Muslims Shines
Related: Opinion: What Good Is Free Speech When You Are Dead?

By PETER HARTWIG
Published September 13, 2012

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney announced late Wednesday that President Barack Obama will be issuing an executive order expanding the enforcement of the federal “Hate Crime” statute to prohibit certain types of anti-Muslim speech.  The impending order is a response to the violence in Libya and Egypt against American interests as a result of an anti-Islamic film posted to YouTube by a U.S. resident.

Mr. Carney stated that Justice Department officials currently are researching the president’s ability to use executive order power to limit certain hateful speech.  He said the order likely will restrict “speech unfairly denigrating the Islamic prophet Mohammed, the religion of Islam and the Muslim people.” 

According to Mr. Carney, in times of crisis the U.S. president may limit many types of speech that endanger national security.  “During World War II, it was unlawful by executive order for Americans to discuss military operations,” said Carney.  “The order will be well-founded in American law and public policy.”

Mr. Carney’s presentation was punctuated by surprising displays of the types of images that might be unlawful under the order.  “For example, this anti-Muslim cartoon depicting the Islamic prophet Mohammed in negative light – seen as Exhibit ‘A’ on the display – will be unlawful,” said Mr. Carney.  Mr. Carney showed several other images of Mohammed that will be outlawed.  Reporters audibly gasped at the apparent poor judgment by the press secretary.

Although Mr. Carney did not accept any questions, within an hour of the press conference he issued a statement of apology for the offensive displays.  “Of course, we did not mean to offend anyone in our displays,” the statement said.  “The purpose of the press conference was to prepare the American people for an important executive order that will protect Muslim sentiments all over the world as well as protect American interests in the process.”

Legal scholars are divided whether President Obama has authority to issue the order described.  “The president must act in times of crisis,” said Cal-Berkeley Law Professor Sandra T. Rubino.  “Since these types of orders have been used before he has wide latitude.”

During World War I and II, the president issued orders restricting any speech concerning troop movements and war strategy.  President Roosevelt even issued an order prohibiting “anti-American” public discourse until the end of hostilities in 1945.