Spoiler alert: Yes. Free speech matters. But today it’s under siege. So, it’s more important than ever to consider what freedom of speech is, the threats it faces, and why it’s still vitally important for our society.
What is Freedom of Speech?
A basic definition is in order: freedom of speech is the ability to say, write, or otherwise express what you truly believe without fear of punishment or retaliation from the government. Importantly, this also includes the freedom not to speak – meaning that you can’t be forced to say or express messages you don’t agree with.
Freedom of speech is one of the “unalienable” rights described in the Declaration of Independence. It comes from God, and the government can’t touch it. In fact, our government was established, in part, to help secure it for us and our fellow citizens.
The ability to speak freely seems like a simple act, but it’s one of the most profound actions a human can undertake. Freedom of speech has helped to build a vibrant and prosperous United States; it helps uphold our democracy, the pursuit of truth, and also limits the government’s power.
Church Leaders and the Freedom of Speech
As church leaders, you have committed your life to serving your congregation and your community, but how does the right to freedom of speech affect your ministry? It affects it in a bigger way than you might initially realize.
You’re continually proclaiming the Gospel and teaching others about the faith. So, being able to speak freely, not only in your house of worship, but also in the public square is central to the ministry God has called you to.
But while the right to speak freely is a fundamental freedom, and fundamental to your ministry, some have attempted to curtail it. Unfortunately, these attempts are likely to increase, especially in a society that pressures people to think, act, and speak in certain newfangled, “woke” ways and “cancels” those who don’t succumb to the pressure.
Revealing the Threats to Freedom of Speech
As our culture changes, some church leaders have experienced infringement on their right to speak – and even preach – freely. This happened in Houston, Texas, when the city ignored the First Amendment and illegitimately demanded that local pastors, known as the Houston Five, turn over their constitutionally protected sermons, speeches, and other private communications with their congregants so the city could see if the pastors had ever opposed or criticized a proposed city ordinance.
But efforts to limit freedom of speech do not stop with pastors. Everyday people – like those in your congregations – face legal threats simply for living out their faith.
Take Chike Uzuegbunam, for example. He was a student at Georgia Gwinnett College who was stopped not once, but twice, from sharing his Christian faith with fellow students in public areas on campus. First, officials said to continue speaking, he had to use one of two tiny speech zones on campus and get advance permission to use them.
Chike did what they asked. He reserved a time and went to the speech zone to speak about his faith. But this time, two campus police officers approached Chike, demanded his ID card, and told him they had received a complaint about his speech. The officers then ordered him to stop and threatened him with discipline if he continued to speak about his faith, blatantly ignoring his right to freedom of speech. When Chike filed suit, college officials first argued that the First Amendment did not protect his freedom to present the Gospel on campus, an argument they later retracted.