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The Slippery Slope of Restricting Free Speech
29 April 2014
"If there is a bedrock principle of the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable."
Justice William J. Brennan, Jr., Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397 (1989).
The restriction of free speech has been part of human society for a long, long time. Although it is not the purpose of this article to document this history, it will be helpful to take a brief look at some examples.
Interestingly enough, one of the earliest written records of restricting freedom of speech is the Old Testament. In the Mosaic Law, the death penalty is prescribe for certain types of verbal expression:
An ancient and well-known example of restricting free speech is when the famous Greek philosopher Socrates was condemned to death for "corrupting the minds of the youth of Athens" by his teaching. And of course there is Yeshua (Jesus), who was killed largely because of His words — see John 8:37-40.
Ever since the time of Constantine, 1,700 years ago, both Christians and non-Christians alike have been persecuted and even put to death for expressing opinions outside of mainstream church doctrine. In more modern times, millions of people have died because of their beliefs and/or their words in Revolutionary France, Communist Russia, and Nazi Germany, among others.
During much of human history, restriction of free speech has been manifestly immoral, largely involving the political repression of one group by another. This political aspect is ultimately at the root of much religious persecution as well. But since World War II, suppression of free speech has acquired a new veneer of respectability and morality.
Seventeen European countries have laws making Holocaust denial a crime. On the surface this seems like a good thing — all moral people should acknowledge that the Holocaust occurred and agree that it was a horrible genocide. Yet after further consideration, it becomes apparent that such laws are in reality the first steps down the slippery slope to George Orwell's dystopian thoughtcrime, vividly depicted in his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four.
Since it has been declared illegal to say that the Holocaust never occurred, what else has been, and will be, proclaimed hate speech by the politically correct? Western European democracies, once of the cradles of freedom, are moving closer and closer to totalitarianism.
What's the deal? Sterling makes some private comments, and a few days later CNN has more than 30 articles on their Web site about it! That seems WAY out of proportion! And even as I write this, there is more extremism — the latest headline is that Sterling has been banned for life from the NBA and fined $2.5 million by them. And the NBA wants to force him to sell the Clippers. All right here in America, the "land of the free!" NOT ANY MORE!
The opponents of Mr. Sterling have shown as much, or more, intolerance and hatred as he has. If they truly practiced what they preach, they would have treated him much differently. These smug, self-righteous "opponents of racism" have won a victory today, but it for sure was NOT justice. It seems a lot more like a modern-day vigilante lynching! His only crime? Expressing his opinion. The whole reason America was founded was to escape and prevent such oppression.
This huge battle over freedom of speech isn't just about consitutional theory. It has major implications for our legal religious right to proclaim the truth of the Bible. Racists aside, there are increasingly-forceful efforts in this country to silence Christians as well.
So what's the point? Why am I sharing all this? Because, as Christians, we can't be part of the groups that wants to legislate and limit free speech. If someone wants to believe the Holocaust never took place, and even wants to share that view publicly, why should that be illegal, even if it is immoral and offensive?
If someone wants to say they don't like Blacks, or to say that Jesus was married, or adhere to white supremacy, or even accuse the Jews of blood libel, then they have that right, don't they?
Of course they do! Because the laws that give people to right to say things that are offensive to Christians and go against the teaching of the Bible, are the very same laws that protect Christians, their views, and their right to share those beliefs. If everyone is not free to hold and express their opinions, and to debate them with each other, then the only other recourse is physical violence against each other. We don't want to go there, but that is the direction we are headed.
Our modern culture's intolerance of differing views and its hypersensitivity are very dangerous trends. More and more pressure is going to be exerted upon Christians to silence them. The question is, are we going to succumb to that pressure, wimp out, and become silent, or are we going to continue to speak out, even if it costs us?
The persecution and murder of Christians is a growing phenomenon around the world, especially in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. But don't think we are immune here in America. It CAN happen here, and I have no doubt that it WILL happen here — sooner than we might imagine.
Christians in this part of the world desperately need to make their hearts ready for what is coming. Followers of Yeshua urgently need to embrace a modern Protestant theology of martyrdom, and do all within their power to prepare for martyrdom.
Christians have never needed approval from the government or from society in order to proclaim the Good News of Yeshua (Jesus) — just read the Book of Acts in the Bible to see for yourself. But in so doing, they have often been persecuted and killed — just read the Book of Acts. Yeshua never said, "Go into all the world and preach the Good News ... IF it's legal and socially acceptable." Rather than protecting us from persecution, Yeshua, Messiah and Master, promised that we would be persecuted.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.... I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.... (Matthew 5:10-12,44)Why will His followers be persecuted and killed? The apostle John explained, "people love darkness instead of light because their deeds are evil." (John 3:19b)
You will be hated by everyone because of Me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. (Matthew 10:22)
You will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of Me. (Matthew 24:9)
Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of Me. (Luke 6:22)
When the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated Me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. A servant is not greater than his master. Because they persecuted Me, they will persecute you also. (John 15:18-20a)
Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I [Yeshua] tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution.... Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor's crown. (Revelation 2:10)
As the darkness becomes ever deeper, perhaps these words, written for God's chosen people, Israel, also apply to God's other chosen people, the Church:
This article is 13th a series of articles on this Web site related to American Politics and Culture which also includes (scroll to see the entire list):
On January 14, 2015, Matthew wrote:
Great article. I consider myself a 'first-amendment absolutist' and believe that all speech should be immune from persecution.
Although in deference to separation of church and state, I'd prefer that no prayers be said at all before convening a state house of representatives. But if you have to have prayers in your house of lawmaking, then Jesus is as good a deity to pray to as any other.
On January 14, 2015, Brian wrote:
In response to Matthew's comment above, I also would prefer no prayers being said at government meetings, because more often than not, they are praying to the Mush God of the pseudo-Christian American civil religion. Yuck!