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Do Church Leaders Need to Care About Freedom of Speech?


In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a city ordinance banned sidewalk counselors, like Nikki Bruni, from counseling or praying with women on a public sidewalk near the entrance of an abortion clinic.

The ordinance allowed others to speak to women about the weather or sports as they approached the clinic’s door but prevented counselors from entering a zone – that extended 15 feet in every direction from the entrance – to provide literature, pray, or speak with a pregnant woman about matters of faith, nonprofit services, and life and death. 

Interestingly, the City Council Chair, who sponsored the law, admitted that it was intended to prevent women from hearing pro-life speech.


The University of Louisville hired Dr. Allan Josephson in 2003 to serve as the Division Chief of the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Psychology. During his tenure, he made significant improvements to the program, elevating it to a position of national reputation. 

In 2017, Dr. Josephson participated in a panel discussion where he expressed his professional views on the treatment of children experiencing gender dysphoria. Several university faculty and staff members objected to his views, and as a result, the university demoted him from his long-held position. In the spring of 2019, the university then informed Dr. Josephson it was not renewing his contract for the upcoming academic year, thus terminating him.

Public colleges have no business punishing people simply because they hold different views than their colleagues or the administration.

Creative Professionals

Jack Phillips, a cake artist in Colorado, gladly serves everyone, but as is customary practice for many artists, he declines to use his creative expression to celebrate events and messages that conflict with his deeply held beliefs. In 2012, two men asked Jack to design a custom wedding cake to celebrate their same-sex ceremony, but he declined because creating that cake would force him to convey a celebratory message that violates his conscience. Jack soon faced a legal complaint and after five years of litigation, his case made it all the way to the Supreme Court.

Thankfully, the Supreme Court ruled in Jack’s favor in that case. But Jack’s legal journey didn’t end there. Activists and hostile Colorado officials have continued attempting to destroy Jack’s livelihood and his rights. He’s now in the middle of his third lawsuit, where an activist sued Jack after he declined to create a custom cake celebrating a “gender transition.” Jack has lost a big part of his business, more than half his employees, and endured hate mail and even death threats throughout his battles in court, but he’s not backing down in his pursuit to protect his fundamental freedoms. 

Unfortunately, Jack isn’t alone. Government officials across the country have also tried to dictate what other creative professionals—like filmmakers, photographers, floral artists, and graphic designers—can express through their work.

Ministry Leaders

Heidi Matzke runs Alternatives Pregnancy Center in Sacramento, California. Like many other pro-life pregnancy centers, it exists to minister to women and help them discover alternatives to abortion.

California officials enacted AB 775, a law that effectively forced pregnancy centers to promote abortion. This law required licensed medical centers that offer free, pro-life help to pregnant women to post signs or distribute a disclosure saying that California provides free or low-cost abortion and contraception, in violation of their religious beliefs. This mandated speech included a phone number for a county office that refers women to Planned Parenthood and other abortion clinics. If Heidi and pregnancy centers like hers did not comply, they faced fines up to $1,000 per violation.

Upholding Freedom of Speech Matters – for Everyone

It’s clear that the threat to freedom of speech is real. While the censoring of ideas, silencing of certain viewpoints, or “canceling” someone with an unpopular opinion may be enjoying its moment in the cultural limelight, these actions harm not only the spread of the Gospel but also the ability of some to live out their faith. Instead of stifling free speech, we need to be oriented toward open dialogue so that truth can be heard and ultimately prevail, which in turn helps create a flourishing society. 

Alliance Defending Freedom is committed to protecting the freedom of speech—not just for some—but for every American.  That’s why we’ve represented each of the individuals in the stories above. We also developed this resource so church leaders can learn more about their free speech rights.

Strong free speech protections ensure that each of us can speak our views freely and live out our faith in the public square without fear of government punishment. It’s important for people in both the pulpits and the pews.