(RNS) The U.N. General Assembly passed a resolution Tuesday (Dec. 21) on “combating defamation of religions,” drawing criticism from human rights organizations and U.S. officials who say support for the measure continues to decline.
The resolution sponsored by Islamic countries passed with 79 to 67, with 40 abstentions. Critics say it does more harm than good by limiting speech rather than protecting religious rights.

The group Human Rights First, which has monitored the issue, called it the “slimmest margin of support since the resolution was first introduced a decade ago.” Last year, it received 80 votes in favor, 61 against and 42 abstentions.

“While we are pleased to see continued declining support for these resolutions, we are certainly disappointed to see them continue to pass as a result of too many countries choosing to abstain rather than vote their conscience,” said Paula Schriefer, director of advocacy for Freedom House, another human rights organization.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, an independent bipartisan watchdog panel, also had sought a defeat of the statement.

“Each year, more and more countries are recognizing that laws allegedly protecting religions from `defamation’ or criticism actually increase intolerance and human rights violations, instead of reducing these problems,” said USCIRF Chairman Leonard Leo.

“Religious intolerance is best fought through efforts to encourage respect for every individual’s human rights, not through national or international anti-blasphemy laws.”

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