Free Speech

Some ramblings on free speech…pardon the lack of a cohesive statement. Today I’m thinking about the potency of the tongue, the desire of those who seek to censor it as a political power move, the double speak going on with regards to who should have free speech and who shouldn’t. This is not an academic piece of writing, so please, keep the lawyers away.

Freedom of Speech by Norman Rockwell

Inspired by Franklin D. Roosevelt’s speech, The Four Freedoms, dated January 6, 1941, Norman Rockwell (who I wrote about here) painted a series of freedom paintings, the first of which was The Freedom of Speech. Here is that segment of FDR’s speech mentioning the four freedoms:

In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.

The first is freedom of speech and expression — everywhere in the world.

The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way — everywhere in the world.

The third is freedom from want, which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants — everywhere in the world.

The fourth is freedom from fear, which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor — anywhere in the world.

I think it no coincidence that freedom of speech and expression is at the top of his list. Certainly, with Hitler’s tyranny against the slightest criticism and silencing of all forms of expression but Naziism, and with WWII then raging, Roosevelt saw a need to aggressively defend this particular freedom.

The Guardian UK published an interesting timeline of the history of free speech a few years ago. Here are a few dates that caught my eye:

399BC Socrates speaks to jury at his trial: ‘If you offered to let me off this time on condition I am not any longer to speak my mind… I should say to you, “Men of Athens, I shall obey the Gods rather than you.”‘

1516 The Education of a Christian Prince by Erasmus. ‘In a free state, tongues too should be free.’

1770 Voltaire writes in a letter: ‘Monsieur l’abbé, I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write.’

1859 ‘On Liberty’, an essay by the philosopher John Stuart Mill, argues for toleration and individuality. ‘If any opinion is compelled to silence, that opinion may, for aught we can certainly know, be true. To deny this is to assume our own infallibility.’

1929 Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, of the US Supreme Court, outlines his belief in free speech: ‘The principle of free thought is not free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought we hate.’

1989 Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini issues a fatwa against Salman Rushdie over the ‘blasphemous’ content of his novel, The Satanic Verses. The fatwa is lifted in 1998.

1992 In Manufacturing Consent, Noam Chomsky points out: ‘Goebbels was in favour of free speech for views he liked. So was Stalin. If you’re in favour of free speech, then you’re in favour of freedom of speech precisely for views you despise.’

Hate Crimes

Hate crimes, also known as bias motivated crimes, occur when the victim is targeted because of his membership in a certain group – racial, religious, gender, age, etc. I’m thinking of the lynching of African-Americans, ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, the Holocaust.

History of hate crimes legislation: The federal hate crimes statute (18 U.S.C. § 245) was originally created to protect civil rights workers in the 1960s. There were serious issues of violence regarding African-Americans enrolling in public schools, enjoying public establishments, travel issues, and more. This statute deals with racial, ethnic, national origin, and religious bias, and does not include sexual orientation. However, almost all states have much broader hate crimes legislation that does include sexual orientation.

The hype today is hate crime legislation targeting anti-gay sentiment. As far as assaults on gay people or destruction of property, or other violence toward homosexuals, there are already laws in place to deal with these crimes. So why is legislation being considered that criminalizes one’s moral or religious opposition to homosexuality? This clearly conflicts with the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of speech. If someone is inciting others to violence with their speech, this is another issue, but anything less than that is simply criminalizing one’s thoughts. Is this America?

The expression of moral judgment is the right of a free person in a free society, whether one agrees with it or not. There are community standards and a consensus that help guide social mores, and clearly, there is not consensus on the homosexual issue.

In 2007 the House passed HR 1592 before it was put away by the Senate. This was an attempt at expanding federal hate crime legislation and will be back. I like what Congressman Ron Paul had to say about HR 1592 (emphasis mine):

May 7, 2007

Last week, the House of Representatives acted with disdain for the Constitution and individual liberty by passing HR 1592, a bill creating new federal programs to combat so-called “hate crimes.” The legislation defines a hate crime as an act of violence committed against an individual because of the victim’s race, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability. Federal hate crime laws violate the Tenth Amendment’s limitations on federal power. Hate crime laws may also violate the First Amendment guaranteed freedom of speech and religion by criminalizing speech federal bureaucrats define as “hateful.”

There is no evidence that local governments are failing to apprehend and prosecute criminals motivated by prejudice, in comparison to the apprehension and conviction rates of other crimes. Therefore, new hate crime laws will not significantly reduce crime. Instead of increasing the effectiveness of law enforcement, hate crime laws undermine equal justice under the law by requiring law enforcement and judicial system officers to give priority to investigating and prosecuting hate crimes. Of course, all decent people should condemn criminal acts motivated by prejudice. But why should an assault victim be treated by the legal system as a second-class citizen because his assailant was motivated by greed instead of hate?

HR 1592, like all hate crime laws, imposes a longer sentence on a criminal motivated by hate than on someone who commits the same crime with a different motivation. Increasing sentences because of motivation goes beyond criminalizing acts; it makes it a crime to think certain thoughts. Criminalizing even the vilest hateful thoughts–as opposed to willful criminal acts–is inconsistent with a free society.

HR 1592 could lead to federal censorship of religious or political speech on the grounds that the speech incites hate. Hate crime laws have been used to silence free speech and even the free exercise of religion. For example, a Pennsylvania hate crime law has been used to prosecute peaceful religious demonstrators on the grounds that their public Bible readings could incite violence. One of HR 1592’s supporters admitted that this legislation could allow the government to silence a preacher if one of the preacher’s parishioners commits a hate crime. More evidence that hate crime laws lead to censorship came recently when one member of Congress suggested that the Federal Communications Commission ban hate speech from the airwaves.

Hate crime laws not only violate the First Amendment, they also violate the Tenth Amendment. Under the United States Constitution, there are only three federal crimes: piracy, treason, and counterfeiting. All other criminal matters are left to the individual states. Any federal legislation dealing with criminal matters not related to these three issues usurps state authority over criminal law and takes a step toward turning the states into mere administrative units of the federal government.

Because federal hate crime laws criminalize thoughts, they are incompatible with a free society. Fortunately, President Bush has pledged to veto HR 1592. Of course, I would vote to uphold the president’s veto.


Have you ever wondered recently why Dr. Dobson won’t support John McCain for President? It’s partly because of the federal legislation that John McCain (R-AZ) pushed through in 2002, the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, known as the McCain-Feingold Act. It basically restricted political free speech by placing new regulations on the financing of political campaigns – both in how much money can be raised and how and when groups can place political ads. For example, the Act requires advocacy groups to name their financial donors if they run ads within 60 days of a general election or within 30 days of a primary, if those ads were targeting candidates. In effect the McCain-Feingold Act limited the ability of groups like Focus on the Family to contact constituents about upcoming legislation.

George Will commented on it last November:

It was in 2002, when Congress was putting the final blemishes on the McCain-Feingold law that regulates and rations political speech by controlling the financing of it. The law’s ostensible purpose is to combat corruption or the appearance thereof. But by restricting the quantity and regulating the content and timing of political speech, the law serves incumbents, who are better known than most challengers, more able to raise money and uniquely able to use aspects of their offices — franked mail, legislative initiatives, C-SPAN, news conferences — for self-promotion.

Has anyone noticed how left-wing political speech (especially if you’re a Muslim) is protected and conservative political speech (especially if you’re a Christian) puts you in jail?

And did you notice how House Speaker Pelosi exercised her free speech to call President Bush a “total failure” yesterday (inciting and fueling hatred of America?), yet Pelosi referred to conservative talk-radio as “hate” radio and wants to bring back the Fairness Doctrine (effectively censors conservative opinion on TV and radio).

It’s only “hateful” speech if it’s anything under the sun the liberals disagree with; otherwise it’s “fairness.” Apparently only liberals/Muslims/gays/anybody-but-conservative-Christians deserve free speech (and deserve to hate).

Are you disturbed about infringements on free speech?

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14 Responses to Free Speech

  1. Renae says:

    I think the issue comes from both “sides.” There are conservative talk shows that are full of hate, but that doesn’t mean they are criminal. The flaming and screaming doesn’t help anyone though.

    The divide will continue to spread as Americans grow in atheism and lawlessness. Politicians, especially the president, are supposed to unite us, but we can’t even agree on what freedom means anymore.

    And one more thought, blogs are an expression of free speech, so I’m glad you are taking advantage of it. Keep up the good work!

  2. Renae says:

    Oh, and just an aside, I really like Norman Rockwell’s series. Growing up I thought his work was so common. Now I hope some of the ideas expressed would grow in commonality.

  3. Jen says:

    Renae, there’s always two sides to be sure. I’m being a bit sarcastic in my sentence about “it’s only ‘hateful’ speech if…” –but to make a point that this issue is currently very unbalanced against traditional, conservative Christians.

    It’s becoming very clear that all the hard work on behalf of free speech done by liberals, Democrats, and the ACLU types over the past several decades, was never really about free speech, but about promoting their own moral agenda. If it was truly about free speech, those same folks would be defending conservative Christian free speech, but they are not. At least we can be thankful for all the groundwork they laid in setting legal precedent for free speech, which ironically now gets to be used to defend ourselves against THEM.

  4. Veggie Mom says:

    Even though some people’s comments–especially hate speech–offend me, I recognize the right of those Americans to hold those beliefs. These are the principals in the Bill of Rights upon which our great country was founded.

  5. Jen says:

    Veggie Mom, Exactly. I don’t promote saying vile, spiteful things to anyone. But in general, this is not what’s going on.

    What’s going on is large-scale propaganda, and I find this to be much more insidious than any vile thing a person could say about a different group of people. So suddenly, you have people simply stating their moral beliefs about sexual behavior, and it’s considered “hate.” I could cite so many cases in which peaceful protesters have been arrested, be it a pro-life or a pro-traditional family advocacy group, because of this propaganda.

    I was reading about Joseph Goebbels yesterday, Hitler’s propaganda minister who controlled all German radio, press, cinema, and theater. Here is a list of of Goebbels’ Principles of Propaganda. Granted, propaganda always comes from both sides. Granted, people claim you’re being “reactionary” by citing anything to do with Hitler. However, we’re absolutely foolish to not learn from history, and it’s completely appropriate to make these connections when there are clear parallels. (By the way, the left likes to use this list, too, to show how supposedly the Bush administration has used propaganda in the war in Iraq–like I said, propaganda is no respecter of political party.)

    Here is one of Goebbels’ principles of propaganda that I find relevant to the homosexual movement’s use of the phrase “hate.” Propaganda must label events and people with distinctive phrases or slogans. The label is critical to their campaign. If everyone becomes convinced/brainwashed into thinking that holding a certain religious/moral view on sexuality is “hateful” then one’s actions, speech, thoughts, and finally very self become targets of hatred (by the very movement that claims that YOU are the hater) and it’s really easy at that point to begin a campaign of aggression against the so-called “hater.”

    How about this one of Goebbels’ Principles of Propaganda: Propaganda to the home front must create an optimum anxiety level.. Does fear of going to jail for “hate speech” create optimum anxiety? I think it fits quite nicely with the homosexual legislative agenda. Hmmm, have they studied Goebbles?

    I need to mention one more bit of advice from Goebbels: Propaganda must facilitate the displacement of aggression by specifying the targets for hatred. So, you focus on a group, make them the enemy (they’re gay-bashers, bigots, haters, small-minded, intolerant, ignorant Bible believers who put their faith in fairy tales) and direct national hatred toward them (as Goebbles succeeded in doing with the Jews). Completely disregarding firmly held religious convictions, the stripping away of rights has begun, justified by the label of “hate.” Just who is doing the hating here?

    Do we see conservative Christians, in general, on a crusade to shut down the free speech, and to jail if need be, people with opposing views, like atheists, homosexuals, Muslims, etc.?? NO. We don’t. People need to break out of the mass psychology and see what’s really happening here.

  6. Tipper says:

    I thought your post was very cohesive and well written. Pap, Paul, and I were just talking about this very thing this morning. Politicians and those in high places often want to have to sets of laws one for them and one for the rest of us. It does seem that the last political correct prejudice-is against Conservatives/Christians.

  7. Julie says:

    Wow Jen – you are not afraid to tackle anything on your blog! Way to go! What exactly is in your dish soap that would inspire such profound ponderings as this to pour forth as you wash them dishes?

    I need to get some!

  8. Jen says:

    Tipper, thanks, my friend! We find our conversations here, too, centered around these issues.

    Julie, well, I just ran out of dish soap this morning…does that mean I’d better stop the blogging? Maybe! (seeking wisdom, washing dishes…)

  9. Sheila says:

    Jen- I love your articles!!!

    This is a great post. I think we as Christians must take our great freedom in Christ and be very careful to use our freedom to “bring grace to the hearer” and to “speak the truth in love” and not become entangled with protesting for our rights. I do believe we should do as Paul urged by the Spirit in 1 Timothy 2:1-4 and pray for the men in governments everywhere so we can live a quiet and peaceable life in godliness and reverence. Something I intend to begin doing for German leaders now that I read what you wrote about Germany’s ban on homeschooling! I had no idea!

    Thanks for bringing awareness to what’s up out there!


  10. As you know, I am concerned. I agree that anything liberal seems to be ok, while anything conservative is deemed to be close minded and hateful.

  11. oops, I also wanted to say that you put a lot of work into your posts. Good job Jen.

  12. Pingback: Stones Cry Out - If they keep silent… » Things Heard: e28v1

  13. Chris says:

    To be blunt, this has to do with heaven and hell. We get so used to speaking with tongues bent towards this world’s vernacular that we tame down the truth. The truth is there is opposition from the prince of this world to silence God’s truth, His Word, His church.

    As you pointed out, much of what we see happening today has already happened in the past. The scenario is always the same – God’s Word is declared unrighteous, immoral and the cause of all societal problems, for which it is despised and thus outlawed. Persecution of God followers then begins with fury. From the time of Christ we have seen this played out over and over again. From Nero who enjoyed turning christians into human candles or feeding them to lions to today in Sudan where it is believed that over 1.5 million christians have died at the hands of Sudan Islamisists since 1984. As for the rest of history, there are endless regimes that have done the same.

    Of interest is that in each historical account of controlling God’s Truth, the controller outlaws proselytizing and the distribution of God’s Word, but not necessarily church like activities. Often the churches are allowed as long as they conform to state sanctioned activities and speech. In Egypt missionaries are welcome as long as they only do charitbile work and no proselytizing. In Nazi Germany, churches were openly welcomed, as long as they conformed. In China today they have the Three Self Patriotic Church which the state decides who can preach, what they can preach and even who can be a christian.

    Is there any questions that the rumblings in America right now are only precursors to a loss of speech and then religion? We live in a society that gasps at the thought of child sacrifice yet defiantly and self righteously defends the “right” of a women to do just that. Many of our legislators (not all of course, thank God many see what is happening) scoff at those who do not believe public educators should be teaching our children that two men marrying each other is a normal and acceptable “lifestyle.”

    In the face of such blatant anti-God sentiment many American christians either are unaware of the advancing seizure of their rights or simply slip into “grace mode.” Grace mode is not true grace, it simply alleviates one, for a time, from the burden of dispensing and standing for the Truth. It goes without saying that without Truth grace cannot exist – one needs something to be graced from… that is the Truth. However, in grace mode we tell ourselves and others to “just have grace” for those who oppose us. I agree fully with grace filled living, being slow to anger (notice slow not absent of) and all of the Christ like qualities we are to embody. But forget not that Christ was “Filled with zeal for His fathers house” when he cleansed the temple. Remember that it was Phinehas who had zeal for the unrighteousness in his time that turned God’s wrath away from Israel. If we are to truly love others we are to be dispensers of God’s Truth even unto death. The only other option is silence or denial of the faith.

    In order to silence those in the body who go on proclaiming even in the face of opposition from state authority mechanisms are devised to do the silencing. These mechanisms cast evil as good and good as evil. They achieve this by legislating morality in reverse – they accuse God’s morality of “subverting government authority” or as being “socially destructive”. Thats a big theological area centering around the foundational christian beliefs in God’s sovereignty and His goodness but simply put it is man’s rebellion against God’s Word.

    So here we are in an election year. Many states have already made it illegal to openly proselytize, to speak anything bad about the homosexual lifestyle, churches are being restricted in what they can say – what are we to do? I don’t believe it’s that difficult, we just need to speak truth, even if we are threatened with persecution. We must speak it in grace, this is true, but we must not not speak it for the sake of grace or we have lost truth. A societies moral consciousness is influenced so greatly by what our friends and neighbors speak and feel, their conscious. If the body of Christ does not speak, as His mouth, the loving truth of God’s word, then we should not expect an America that reflects the beauty of God’s thoughts.

  14. Jen says:

    Chris, thanks for the great comment, I always appreciate your bluntness (most of the time!); I suppose that’s one of the reasons why I married you! :-)

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