I was inspired to write this because I’m watching a country I love become less and less recognizable to me. I know that sounds dramatic, and perhaps it is. But what I’ve always loved about this country are the freedoms we have: speech, religion, the press, to name a few.
My parents were huge fans of history, so I was raised learning all about the founding fathers, the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution. I was saddened to learn these documents aren’t even really taught in most schools anymore. How can this be? If we are to understand who we are as a nation, we need to go back to where it all began and those principles, ideals, and structural cornerstones. Without this knowledge, it’s like trying to build a skyscraper without any blueprints for reference.
The founding documents have been deemed problematic by some. Do I sit here and deify the men and women who forged this country? No, they were human, flawed. Was every decision they made perfect, honorable and righteous? Obviously not. I refer to them as ordinary people living in extraordinary times guided by their Creator.
We should look at what they did in the context of the times when they lived. Imagine what someone twenty years from now might think about beliefs and actions we currently hold as acceptable. Would they consider us foolish and scoff at us? It’s very easy to judge a historical situation through a contemporary lens. This is in no way excusing certain practices such as slavery and other atrocities committed here. But what I believe separates us from others is that, though we’ve yet to live up to the ideals and principles of moral character and righteous, fair treatment outlined in our founding papers, we strive to live up to them.
Now, if you’ve read those few paragraphs and disagree with me, that’s OK. In this country, you have the right to hold an opposing view from me. It is the great push-and-pull of free speech which helps us on our journey. If our beliefs are never challenged, and we are never called upon to defend them, how strong are they?
So, what does a speakeasy have to do with free speech?
As most of us know, speakeasy was a term made popular during the time of Prohibition (1920-1933). The 18th Amendment “made the manufacture, transportation, and sale of alcoholic beverages illegal in the U.S., but that didn’t stop people from having drinks.”1 Fun fact: I wasn’t aware that people could still drink whatever alcohol was in their homes, just not outside of it. The speakeasy was any venue (bar or nightclub, for example) that continued to secretly sell alcohol to the public in violation of the amendment. It’s thought the term may have come from patrons having to whisper or have a special passcode to gain entry to these establishments.
Bottom line: folks who wanted to enjoy cocktails outside the home had to do it discreetly. There could be real consequences if they were caught in a speakeasy. But within the walls of the building, they could partake freely. Now, regardless of how you feel about drinking alcohol, and there is certainly a case to made against it, the point I’m making is imagine being able to live a certain way for years, and then one day the government tells you what you’re doing is against the law and you can be jailed for it.
Now imagine you wake up one day and the government has decided you can’t say certain things, write or post certain content because it’s been deemed unacceptable. Labels like misinformation and disinformation are slapped on ideas, beliefs, theories, and questions that were once considered perfectly ordinary or normal.
There was a time when people were entitled to individual opinions and you, as an individual, were entitled to agree or disagree with them.
As a free-thinking individual, you could hear different viewpoints on any topic, at your discretion. If you chose to only hear what supported your opinion, that was your choice. But if you wanted to hear another perspective, you could access that material with relative ease.
The past few years highlighted how far removed we are from those days. Government and private entities solidified themselves as the arbiters of everything. They will be the ones to decide which information is fact and which is fiction. I won’t waste time going through the myriad of topics that were suppressed, vilified, mocked, and ridiculed because they differed from the predetermined suitable narrative. You probably know some of them, I’m sure. But the list is long and growing.
Limited access to information does not create an atmosphere for a healthy society.
There is a reason the Bill of Rights was articulated in our Constitution. The drafters of this new form of government, unprecedented in world history, were doing everything they could to ensure protection for the citizens from the government. They had fought a bitter war to divest themselves from the oppressive grip of a monarchy. They wanted to make certain government was kept harnessed and restrained. They knew all too well the consequences of unchecked power over a people.
So, do our rights come from God or government?
Here’s where knowing the Declaration of Independence comes in handy. It states,
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,2
Seems clear. Our rights come from the Lord not from the government or any person. It defines the role of government as securing our God-given rights. Government’s power only comes from us giving consent.
But it doesn’t feel that way very often lately.
Let’s go deeper into the concept of free speech. A term I hear often, but no one can seem to define accurately, is hate speech. They’ll give you examples of what they believe it is, but as I’m sure I’ve written before: speech you hate isn’t hate speech. Offensive speech is protected.
What? How can that be? It’s an awful thing being said or posted. It shouldn’t be allowed.
Speech that doesn’t offend or isn’t objectionable doesn’t need to be protected.
Think about it. If someone says, “Puppies are cute,” no one is going to really lose their minds (unless they prefer cats or maybe have a dog allergy). But if someone says, “Puppies shouldn’t exist,” some people might get very upset (me included). Yet if I believe free speech is absolute, (and I do), then I don’t have to agree with it, but I stand with them for the right to express it. Now, I can respond to their speech or protest or do whatever to demonstrate my firm disagreement. As horrible as I may believe it is, they still have a right to say it.
Who gets to decide what’s acceptable? And what if they decide what you want to say isn’t?
The puppy example is, obviously, rather benign. I didn’t want to start a firestorm by bringing up something more controversial. My point is this amendment exists for a reason. Here’s what it says:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”3
Other parts of the world can have you fined or jailed for what the government decides is hate speech. If someone posts something I find awful, such as, “There is no Jesus,” or mocking God, I don’t like it. But if I want them jailed for it, I set a scary precedent. What if the tables are turned on me? What if the government decides talking about Jesus or sharing my faith is dangerous? (But that could never happen here, right?)
Government partnering with private companies to censor and regulate speech online and elsewhere terrifies me. Social media platforms are doing what the government is not able to do. It’s a sneaky way around the Constitution. Scary. Once again, we’re relying on a select few to determine what is appropriate for us all. That runs in direct contrast to what we’re supposed to be about in this country.
Let’s remember our rights are God-given.
Does God have anything to say about our speech?
Oh, the number of scriptures dedicated to how we should speak and the power of the tongue. It’s like the Lord knows us so well or something. You know I brought receipts. (Any and all Bible verses, unless otherwise indicated, are from biblegateway.com, NIV, emphasis added.)
Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. (James 3:4-5)
In this passage, it likens the tongue to the rudder of a ship or a small spark of fire in a forest. Powerful. The rudder, though a small part, steers the whole ship. A little spark can spread and consume a whole forest. Our tongue, likewise, can either be creative or destructive.
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. (Ephesians 4:29)
Clearly, God wants us to speak kindly to one another, to use our powers for good, if you will. But this can be challenging, particularly when we’re facing adversity. Here’s what I should pray more often:
Set a guard over my mouth, Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips. (Psalm 141:3)
Am I the only one who needs to keep my mouth in check? Keep in mind, I’m taking direction from God not government. I’m policing my own speech. It’s not being imposed upon me by some totalitarian authority. I’m not being bullied or threatened with expulsion for non-compliance. The Lord loves us in spite of us. We can’t win His love. It’s His gift to us. We’re neither forced nor coerced to work on any area of ourselves which could be improved. We choose.
The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit. (Proverbs 18:21)
Life and death in our words? I know I’ve written about this before. We remember the words that hurt us or shut us down, perhaps more so than those which built us up and encouraged us. We can crush or kill someone’s hopes or dreams with words. In contrast, we can bring life to those same hopes or dreams with words.
For, whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech. They must turn from evil and do good; they must seek peace and pursue it. (1 Peter 3:10-11)
I put this verse last because it addresses the theme of this whole piece so well. Another term for deceitful speech is lying. If you ever read the Bible (and if you haven’t, please do so), God cannot stand lying. He knows we will make mistakes, bad decisions, etc. It’s when we lie to ourselves, others, and especially Him where things get more complicated and bad. First, lying to God is a colossal waste of time and energy because He’s got the whole all-knowing, all-seeing, all-powerful thing. You can’t lie to Him. It’s just insulting, honestly. Second, God doesn’t want us to trick or manipulate anyone. Last, He doesn’t want us to be dishonest with ourselves.
I was never the best at writing concluding paragraphs. (Some things never change.) To sum up, our rights were not, are not, and never will be from the government. They are given to us by God. As such, we are accountable to Him for all of it. In the Bible, He details how we should use our words: carefully, to edify, and never to lie. We have free will. This means we choose whether to heed His guidance or not.
His promises are true and reliable. They’re not based on some capricious whim or vain imagination. They stand the test of time, as do the divinely inspired principles and concepts in our founding documents. I pray we realize that soon and begin to turn back to the One who gave us our rights, and not rely on those who seek to take them away.
Until next time, stay happy, stay healthy, stay in the know. Your rights are a gift from God.
Look forward to hearing from you.