Finding Truth in Freedom
My good friend Rob Long is the community editor of the DeSoto Times-Tribune. Recently he wrote a piece titled “Banning Books Not the Answer.” He argued that it is wrong to ban books if for no other reason than the protection of free speech enshrined in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Long also discusses the banning of speakers with unpopular ideas from college campuses—places where the free exchange of ideas is both appropriate and necessary.
I agree wholeheartedly with these sentiments for more than philosophical reasons. Banning the expression of ideas is not only bad practice, it is also bad theology. More on that later.
Long cites the pilgrims, who came to the New World so they could say what they wanted about God. He also mentions suffragettes, African-Americans, farm workers, conscientious objectors—all of whom espoused causes that were unpopular. Many of them suffered persecution, bodily injury and even death in defense of those causes. Yet they marched, and wrote, and spoke, and picketed—called attention to their cause any way they could because they knew the Constitution guaranteed them the right.
In recent years men and women have come forward with complaints against church leaders for molesting them when they were children. Today, athletes express their concern for their fellow citizens by making physical statements before they take the field. Most recently, women are coming forward with stories of abuse by those who believe their positions of power allow them liberties with women’s bodies. The Constitution guarantees their right to speak out.
But what about those who represent views that most of us find reprehensible, views that espouse negative attitudes and behaviors towards people who are different from them—views that, if adopted, would reduce parts of our population to second-class status or remove them from the country. Should we allow these people to speak their minds? Should we allow them on our college campuses? Wouldn’t it be better if we silenced them, told them to go away, to stop bombarding us with their hate-filled speech? Long says “No!” They have as much right to speak as anyone else. Their right to free speech is also guaranteed by the Constitution.
The danger is that when we ban any form of speech, we set loose the pebble that leads to the rockslide. You can’t ban some speech without running the risk of banning all speech. It can set in motion a domino effect with terrible consequences.
Some of the most controversial ideas in history were set forth by Jesus Christ. What he said angered the leaders of his country so much they put him to death. They found his ideas so offensive—so dangerous—that they got rid of him. He had no constitution to protect his right of free speech.
Ironically, Jesus never tried to stifle his critics. He argued with them, criticized them, but never denied them the right to say what they believed. He went further. As his life slipped away he forgave them for silencing him, knowing that they did not understand how wrong their actions were.
Jesus said, “you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” He was referring to spiritual truth, but his statement is universal. Only by hearing all points of view; only by being exposed to all ideas; only by weighing all arguments can we understand an issue. And only when we have heard it all can we—in freedom—come to know the truth.