Larry Kirkpatrick

A Positive Place on the Web for the Third Angel's Message

Religious Liberty 2021--Freedom of Speech

The Declaration of Independence reads in part,

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,

--That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

I want you to notice especially that "all men are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights." These are also called natural rights. They are rights we have because we are human. Notice, not because of a government declaration, even the Constitution or the Declaration of Independence or the Bill of Rights. We have these rights before any human government and after any human government. No one can take them away. No one.

But you and I are Christians. We would ask, Is there a biblical basis for natural rights? One passage is found in Romans 1:12-16:

For as many as have sinned without law, and as many as have sinned in the law will be judged by the law (for not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified); for when the gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them) in the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Christ Jesus, according to my gospel.

God designed humans. We are all liable to judgment. Yes, humans judge each other, but God decides who lives for eternity or whose existence is ended for eternity. He made us human so we are morally accountable to Him. He created the order. We are accountable to His order.

Human governments come. Human governments go. Human governments transform. Revelation warns of one end-time power that will appear lamblike but act dragonlike; it will at one turn respect the rights recognized by the Lamb Jesus, and at another, act out the spirit of Satan himself.

We have been glad, one and all of us, to defer that dragon-like period to some vague, distant future time. But just like library books eventually come due, so do prophecies.

Ellen White, wrote

The framers of the Constitution recognized the eternal principle that man's relation with his God is above human legislation, and his rights of conscience inalienable. Reasoning was not necessary to establish this truth; we are conscious of it in our own bosoms (The Great Controversy, 295).

Governments may recognize these rights, or they may not. They may recognize them in part, or part of the time, and at other times, not. And here is where the Seventh-day Adventist Church's religious liberty emphasis comes in. It is better when governments respect these rights. To help community and government leaders remember these things, we publish Liberty, a magazine devoted to issues surrounding religious liberty. This requires a certain amount of continuing resources to accomplish, so early in each year we take a small amount of time to call to mind this important ministry.

The church has for more than a century stood up not only for the rights of our own members, but has supported the religious freedom of other groups many times, because religious liberty impacts all of us. If a Roman Catholic or a Jehovah's Witness has their rights impeded, none of us are safe.

I want to put my finger on a particular point of emphasis today: freedom of speech.

The First Amendment reads in part: "Congress shall make no law... abridging the freedom of speech." James Madison, who drafted the Bill of Rights, insisted that the article "the" precede the word "freedom," as in "the freedom of speech," so as to make it manifestly clear that those who proposed and ratified the First Amendment recognized that the freedom of speech preceded the existence of the government.

To the signers of the Declaration of Independence and the ratifiers of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, the freedom of speech, along with other freedoms, is a natural right because it comes from our humanity, not from the government.

Ryan Walters wrote this all the way back in 2017:

The society we live in today has some striking resemblances to the society described in Fahrenheit 451. Ray Bradbury describes an America where books must be destroyed, discourse must be shallow, and ideas contrary to the status quo must be silenced. Currently, while books are not being literally destroyed, the historical foundations of this country are being attacked and dismissed as outdated. Instead of looking into the past to find heroes to emulate, the current trend is to mock and attack any historical figure influential in American history. Apparently, we are too enlightened today to learn anything from Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence because he owned slaves. Historical figures are flawed because they, like us, are human. Instead of studying these figures with a critical eye, they and their accomplishments must be removed from our consciousness.

Read more:

Mind you, he shared those thoughts before 2020 when mobs in the streets of America began tearing down statues here; before big tech became so drunk with power it would begin censoring the speech even of a president; before airlines began to refuse service to fliers on the basis of their politics or banks would stop doing business with public figures. This article was published less than four years ago. How speedily things have changed.

Do you have religious liberty in the form of freedom of speech?

We are supposed to have it. First of all, this means you are free to speak with others about your faith in Jesus Christ. Every believer in Jesus benefits from religious liberty in this sense very directly. Part of being a Christian is sharing one's faith. It keeps us alive and alert and praying for those who have not yet found salvation. We are not only to be ready to give an answer for our faith (1 Peter 3:15), but to tell others about Jesus.

Freedom of speech also protects the right to preach our faith, whether by a pastor, an elder, or a layperson or church member. There have been times and places where only licensed preachers could preach. This means someone arrogated the power to themselves to regulate the work of God's servants. But how would God's prophets have fared in Old Testament times if they had to get a license from the king to preach? How would the Protestant Reformation have happened if Luther had stopped preaching after the pope claimed to excommunicate him? How would Wesley have preached all over England if he had not preached in the churchyards and cemeteries, license or no?

Freedom of speech protects our right to distribute literature. One summer I spent colportering just across the lake in Wisconsin. But we found there that certain cities along the lake tried to prohibit us from selling and distributing our Bibles and religious books and tracts as we went from door to door. They claimed we needed a business license. But we are each one of us given right directly by God. Someone complained that Wesley was out of his parish as he preached, but he replied that all the world was his parish. And all the world is our parish!

Then there is Bible reading. It was not so many years ago that in many countries being caught with a Bible might lead to prison. Your very right to read your own Bible is part of your protected rights.

Freedom of speech for us in America is practically the foundation of society. We believe that the truth can stand on its own, and that the common person has enough common sense to hear both sides of a matter and make up his mind for himself what the truth is. America survived for more than 200 years without "fact checkers," and God-willing it should continue to.

It is not popular speech that needs to be protected, but unpopular speech. I hope most of us recall the saying that I may not agree with what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it. But this is now more commonly replaced with, If you don't agree with me I'll get you canceled. People are forgetting their God given rights, and the God-given rights of their neighbors.

Remember that the gift of free will to you verifies the gift of free speech for you. Look how God has dealt with the conflict between good and evil. From the beginning, He let the serpent say what he says and Adam and Eve say what they said. In the book of Job, there are dozens of long chapters of dialogue, mostly between Job and three confused friends who are speaking out their wrong ideas about God. Only at the last does God Himself enter the discussion setting them all straight. In the gospels, even as Jesus hangs expiring on the cross and the crowd jeers wrong things about Him, God lets them chatter And in the book of Revelation, when the government imposes the mark of the beast on people, God grants them the freedom to do that for a time.

Indeed, the contrast to God throughout the Bible record is Satan, who consistently uses human governments to take away freedom of speech. And no surprise for again, as the Bible record shows, Satan is the one who consistently works to take away human free will.

But Satan is never at rest. He is always working with evil men to abridge our freedoms. And he delights to do usually dressed in white. More recently the idea of "hate speech" has come to the fore. Certain kinds of speech, we are told, are hate speech, and thus do not qualify as protected speech. But who classifies which speech is non-hate speech and which speech is hate speech? There is a proposal just one notch on the grid up from us--in Canada--to pass a law that says to social media companies that they have 24 hours to take down any internet posting that has hate speech in it. So you are going to make these companies score and read everything posted on their networks in search of possible hate speech, eh? The fact is, that many powerful people and companies are keen to find ways to defeat freedom of speech.

I return back to the idea that the freedom of speech existed before any human government, and that we must be vigilant and wary of plans to prevent hate which come to us dressed in angel robes of goodness. The freedom of speech precedes them.

There is another argument we have all heard about limiting speech. It says that free speech has limits, that one does not have the right to yell "fire!" in a crowded theatre.

But freedom of speech is grounded in the rights of private property. Justice Hugo Black stated:

I went to a theater last night with you. I have an idea if you and I had gotten up and marched around that theater, whether we said anything or not, we would have been arrested. Nobody has ever said that the First Amendment gives people a right to go anywhere in the world they want to go or say anything in the world they want to say. Buying the theater tickets did not buy the opportunity to make a speech there. We have a system of property in this country which is also protected by the Constitution. We have a system of property, which means that a man does not have a right to do anything he wants anywhere he wants to do it. For instance, I would feel a little badly if somebody were to try to come into my house and tell me that he had a constitutional right to come in there because he wanted to make a speech against the Supreme Court. I realize the freedom of people to make a speech against the Supreme Court, but I do not want him to make it in my house.

That is a wonderful aphorism about shouting "fire" in a crowded theater. But you do not have to shout "fire" to get arrested. If a person creates a disorder in a theater, they would get him there not because of what he hollered but because he hollered. They would get him not because of any views he had but because they thought he did not have any views that they wanted to hear there. That is the way I would answer not because of what he shouted but because he shouted.

Free speech, in a sense, then, is a property right. When the Ten Commandments prohibits theft it is upholding this property right.

I want to come back now to our passage at 1 Peter 3:13-17 and finish by unpacking that some more.

First, notice that we may suffer for doing good. But we are to have God in our hearts and be determined to do good just the same. We are always to be ready to give a defense. A defense however is not at all limited to defending disputed points. We are to be able to positively describe our faith. A defense can and often should be quite firm, even aggressive. It will have to be to stand up against the assaults against it.

What are we supposed to be able to do? To sustain the reason for the hope that is in you. Some accuse Christians of hiding behind some kind of blind faith, that we believe what we believe on the basis of nothing more than fancy and desire. But there are many evidences sustaining the Christian faith. The giving of Bible prophecy and its fulfillment is a serious evidence for our belief. Another is the extraordinary depth and consistency of how the Bible describes the human situation in a fallen world with the way we experience it. How could such a perfect explanation of the human situation arise from backwards unlettered nomadic desert tribesmen?

When the Bible describes the condition of the human heart wallowing in its sin and self-service, this is also a help in authenticating the why of our belief.

Notice also that we are to give an answer for the hope that is in us. Christian living is based on hope, not despair. Hope is necessary for human thriving. We have hope through Jesus and what the world needs is hope. As we express that hope into the world we are bringing healing and hope to the world. The preservation of free speech enables us to do this fearlessly. We may be persecuted for it, but we have the freedom of speech. God has given is to us.

Meekness and respect for others should characterize our speech. Our speech should be like Jesus' was. We should most of the time speak in a winning way. Jesus' denunciations, while they were fiery were the lesser part of His speech and always came after long and patient attempts to communicate with grace.

If we withhold speech about truth, we are doing a disfavor to our would-have-been hearers and ourselves. We must discharge our duties to speack what is right, or else we cannot have a clear conscience. Since men must decide based on testimony, we must give our testimony faithfully. If God's own servants won't do this, who else can be expected to do it?

After we have spoken truth we may be defamed. We may be pronounced to be evil doers. But if God permits it, then we are to endure. We will suffer for doing good. We should just plan on that. It is baked into the situation. But if we never suffer for our faith, possibly we need to ask why we never suffer for our faith. Are we dumb dogs that don't bark? That is a Bible phrase.

His watchmen are blind, They are all ignorant; They are all dumb dogs, They cannot bark; Sleeping, lying down, loving to slumber. Yes, they are greedy dogs Which never have enough. And they are shepherds Who cannot understand; They all look to their own way, Every one for his own gain, From his own territory. "Come," one says, "I will bring wine, And we will fill ourselves with intoxicating drink; Tomorrow will be as today, And much more abundant" (Isaiah 56:10-12).

Christians cannot be this. This is apostasy. We must bark. We must tell the truth although we must not compel others to accept truth. Our part is to live it and give it and pray for those who are confronted with it. But we must be sure to confront them with it.

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Fremont MI SDA 2021-01-16