Which brings up the absolutely salient point that there is no U.S. government role in the creation of Innocence of the Muslims. In an editorial on September 12, the New York Times observed that “whoever made the film did true damage to the interests of the United States and its core principle of respecting all faiths.” The makers of the video clearly aimed to incite Muslims, but they are under no moral or legal obligation to respect other people’s religious beliefs. Whatever damage to U.S. interests the film has caused among Muslims, the interests of U.S. citizens would suffer far graver harm if our government were permitted to engage in censorship.
As the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution makes plain, it is indeed a “core principle” that the U.S. government cannot favor one religious doctrine over any other and must respect everyone’s faith or lack thereof. President Thomas Jefferson expressed this view well in his 1802 letter to Danbury Baptists, “I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.”
This wall of separation is largely responsible for the relative social peace our religiously diverse country enjoys. A comparison of the Hudson’s Institute’s Index of Religious Freedom for countries in the Middle East and North Africa with the World Bank’s indicators for political violence and for voice and accountability finds that the lack of freedom of religion and speech goes hand-in-hand with social violence and political instability. Where church (mosque) and state are entwined, social and political violence are far more common.