The Corner

Will the U.S. Defend Constitutional Freedoms from Egyptian Threats?

Iranian-American pastor Saeed Abedini, now condemned to eight years’ imprisonment by the Iranian government for raising funds for an orphanage, is not the only American under threat from a foreign government.

On Tuesday, the Cairo Criminal Court reaffirmed a death sentence for “insulting Islam” and “undermining national unity” for seven Coptic Egyptian Christians accused of being involved in creating the now-infamous YouTube video “The Innocence of Muslims.” This short, obscure video trailer was initially falsely implicated by the American government in the killing of U.S. diplomats in Benghazi. 

Those condemned to death include Morris Sadek, a lawyer and founder of the National American Coptic Assembly, Coptic priest Father Aziz Khalil, Fikri Abdel Masih Zaklma (known as Esmat Zaklma), Nabil Adib Besada, the media coordinator of the National American Coptic Assembly, Eliyah Basile (known as Nicholas Basile Nicholas), Nahed Mahmoud Metwally (known as Fibie Abdel Masih), and Nader Farid Fawzi Nicholas. One is a resident of Australia, another is a resident of Canada, and five of them are residents of the United States. In addition, American micro-pastor Terry Jones, famous for his burning of a Koran, was sentenced to five years in prison, despite his having no connection to Egypt whatsoever.

There were many irregularities in the case. The death sentences were handed down despite the fact that, according to Egyptian law, the death penalty may be imposed only in three instances — espionage, premeditated murder, and rape. But the Egyptian constitution passed in December in a low-turnout referendum gives primacy to the principles of sharia, which has the practical effect of allowing the courts to run wild. Moreover, the trials were conducted in absentia.

However, the irregularities are a side issue. Even if the proceedings had been entirely regular under Egyptian law, the bottom line is that Egyptian courts have condemned to death people in America for exercising rights protected under the American constitution.

So far, despite the fact that even Al Jazeera has accurately publicized the case, the administration has not publicly responded to Egypt’s sentence of death on those under the U.S. government’s constitutional protection. Is the American government willing to vigorously defend the freedoms of speech, religion, and the press held by those it is sworn to protect, regardless of how unpopular their expressed views might be?

— Paul Marshall is senior fellow at the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom and the author, with Nina Shea and Lela Gilbert, of Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians, to be released by Thomas Nelson in March 2013.

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