Ligon Duncan on the Non-Negotiables of the Gospel

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  • Friday, April 20, 2007

    Free Speech Reform

    Freedom of speech, while forming one of our most precious and treasured possessions, can also become a platform for some of the grossest abuse, even under special protection, if not guarded and properly used or administered.

    Several issues have led me to reconsider and address this subject:

    1. It's not uncommon today to see such things as obsenity, pornography, hate speech, etc., exercised and protected to varying degrees under "free speech".
    2. Many consciously recognize that something's just doesn't sit well when it comes to the hip hop world singing about killing policemen (and potentially planting seeds among parts of our more impressionable culture) and doing so under the protection of the "free speech" clause.
    3. While advancing legislation dealing with hate crimes (a good thing), moral issues like sexual orientation and homosexuality are being slipped in and placed inseparably alongside non-moral issues like race, religion, gender, ethnic origin, etc. (not such a good thing).
    4. Legal experts, in addressing the government's hands being tied regarding the massacre at Virginia Tech, declare that while Cho Seung-Hui's writing and words proved very troubling, there was nothing the government could do. (While I'm not suggesting or denying that more could or should have been done or not done in this case, the point is that while actions and steps taken by an individual using other parts of the body would provide grounds for greater intervention or restraint, it struck me that when it comes to one's expressions and words, even the tongue which we know can be so powerful, that particularly in this area, where so frequently the assailant himself was communicating there was a problem and potential for greater problems, it seems our hands were tied, under the auspice of "free speech."

    While I recognize issues surrounding free speech, censorship, etc. are extremely complicated, and while I recognize and greatly value the free speech I have and would do nothing to give it up or have it taken from us,... and,
    While I claim neither to be an historian, constitutional expert, etc., ... and,
    While I do not suggest we can or should legislate individuals for their thought or profitable creative expression, etc....

    At the same time, the wisdom of the Scripture is clear, and supreme, and perhaps may provide guidance in better perfecting the manner in which we understand and apply "free speech" when it says in Philippians 4:8 "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things. whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me - put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you."
    While this may not speak directly to free speech, it does remind us of the better way that suggests that some things are better than others and that while some individuals may even desire to participate and propagate certain things - some that may not even be appropriate (such as hate, or songs about the killing of cops; or while perhaps not criminal, even the writings such Cho Seung-Hui's which the teachers and media suggest were clearly of inappropriate nature given the nature of writing and context of the assignment ... should it along with his additional "signals" of disturbance not have tipped us off more and perhaps opened the way for greater intervention?? , etc.), it is better, yea best to follow the higher road.

    Again, while recognizing that temporally speaking someone must be the legislator and judge of what is appropriate and what is not (and that the lines will ultimately be drawn someone by someone either to one's likes or dislikes), it's also clear to me that while freedom of speech is a right that we should provide and protect, that does not mean we are to do so at the expense or in conflict with other truth and values.
    Am I suggesting that all the beliefs and values of unbelievers not be considered and that only the values of Christians be considered in making and enforcing laws? No...but at the same time, it appears to me that given our present situation and struggles, a reassessment of the origin, history, and direction of what we mean and how we use free speech is worthy of consideration. Not being a historian, it's still my belief that the framers of the U.S. Constitution probably did not have in mind and intend to suggest that unrighteousness and evil/rebellious practices were good and were to be protected in the manner and to the degree that we witness today.

    While dagoods may accuse of hypocrisy again by suggesting I'm looking to the courts to advance my positions, let me not only state that what I'm suggesting is the evaluation and rightful use of the laws and courts versus the use of the courts as a primary tool to impose and indoctrinate others with one's own beliefs, and at the same time encourage believers through the use of a quote from an unknown author who stated that "the best defense against abuse of free speech is more free speech".

    In the same way that Abraham Kuyper and others helped us understand and administer government better, perhaps those with minds brighter than mine can think, act and provide leadership in perfecting the principles, understanding, and application of free speech (or perhaps, as may need to be the case, simply to reform our understanding and ways back to the original intentions of the first amendment).

    This much I know, protecting profanity for profanity's sake(or even for the sake of free speech) is not in keeping with purity, nor should it continue in practice. How much more then, for such things as pornography, etc.


    jazzycat said...

    While I agree with your intentions, I think the Christians that wrote our constitution understood that the state could not be trusted to be the arbiters in deciding what speech is allowed and what is not. I see a huge problem with your thesis in that the state, if allowed to restrict speech in any way, could end up protecting pornography, etc. and outlawing Christian speech (great commission, moral issues, etc.). The following is quote from my Romans 8:36 post that touches on the subject of tolerance, but would apply equally to free speech: With even an ounce of discernment, it is obvious that tolerance is selective and the leaders of the secular culture intend to do the selecting for us all. Christian beliefs, activities, writing, and speech will not be included in what is to be tolerated. For example a lot of abortion advocates and politicians consider any speech in opposition to abortion as inciting hate crimes.

    I would agree with restrictions on “in your face” crude type speech in the form of prohibiting them from access by children and being too open and offensive to the public in general. However, I do not think banning speech would serve the Christian cause in the long run.

    As to school shootings, the only effective solution that I see would be to have someone in the building armed to protect unarmed students. Perhaps some of the instructors could be armed if it would not be cost effective to have armed guards.

    DagoodS said...


    Profanity and free speech (just picking one particular prickly problem) is a fascinating concept. There is an outstanding law article written regarding this issue that provides insight on taboo words, why they are taboo, and how the Supreme Court has handled such words.

    If you are interested in the subject, I strongly recommend reading it. However, full and fair warning. It uses profanity, and one particular word (in fact, the title is one word) extensively. But in a scholarly sense. (It was published in a Law Journal, after all.)

    I understand that many may shy away, simply after reading the title. That is unfortunate since it provides so much insight in this area.

    For example, it talks about how we attempt to “clean up” certain taboo words, as if that is better somehow, yet we still know exactly what is being said. One of the rules on this blog is that you will delete unwholesome and profane words “even disguised ones.” The fact that you can even consistently implement such a rule is that if I type a letter with a correct number of dashes, you know exactly what I was saying. What is the difference between using dashes and actual letters?

    Good question. (None, really, as even your rule correctly points out.)

    Anyway, if you want to read the article, it can be downloaded from a few sites here:

    If, after visiting that link, you feel you cannot post this comment, that’s fine with me.

    Puritan Lad said...

    One important aspect of the First Amendment is that it was meant to be applied to Congress. It was (and should still) be expected that the news media would regulate itself to some extent, and that violations (like porn) would be punished by local governments. Indeed, this was the case in the early colonies.

    Today, people get upset when a TV Station refuses to air obscene material. They call out for "no-censorship", which cannot be found in the Constitution. The TV Station is a business, and they have to make decisions that suit their best financial interest.

    Freedom of Speech guarantees our right to NOT say something as well.

    Swordbearer said...

    To All,

    I appreciate your comments.

    To Jazzycat, I agree with what you have written (to a very, very, very large degree, and this is the way I have traditionally understood the first amendment, as most people have..... only in days past with a society influenced more by Christian values and common grace, we didn't have as many unregenerate people trying to push the egde "on the impure side in the name of liberty and free speech" as much and as far as we do today -); however, in certain areas, we witness today (or could in the future) either in practice or in proposals exactly what you suggest allowing the state to legislate or restrict speech in any way could end up doing, ... protecting pornography and proposals headed toward outlawing Christian speech.

    Here's are several questions, and I'm interested in dialogue on these.

    1. Is the best way to ensure the the freedom of gospel proclamation, communications, freedoms, etc., (as well as the freedoms of other religions) to ensure that government is not allowed to restrict speech in any way? (Note: it does restrict speech in some ways even now, i.e., slander, lieing under oath, etc.)

    2. (Most importantly in this thread) Is it NECESSARY for the government to NOT restrict or act on ANY speech, in order to ALSO ensure at the same time that gospel proclamation is not restricted and freedoms are ensured. (In other words, is this something that's better left alone (believing that the current laws are sufficient to restrain evil while promoting righteousness ... and providing for the freedom of gospel proclamation), or would an additional amendment carefully crafted to provide the state greater lattitude and ability on the lower end of the spectrum to act in certain limited situations (like in the situation of the repeated troubled communications from the V. Tech student)while at the same time positively affirming the right and freedom for people of all faiths to proclaim etc, their beliefs, including their positions on morality (distinguishing this between hate crimes to individuals).

    Note: I recognize that the great caution and concern as well as thought that should be given to ever messing with (whether changing, adding to, or taking from constitutional documents); however at the same time, just as with other aspects of the constitution, as experience and new situations crop up, there's been a need to further clarify and deal with specific issues through addtional laws (etc.), perhaps discussion and greater clarity could be (and may need to be addressed in this area) to GREATER SAFEGUARD AND PROTECT the freedoms we now enjoy, while at the same time giving the government the tools and means they need, given the increasing levels of heathendom, crime, mass killings and terrorism in our land.

    Note: In other areas dealing with the flesh/body/will, we are able to distinguish between steps taken in a rogue direction from those that are good, why can't we also do it when it comes to speech and communication. For example, when it comes to child pornography, experience has shown that even before a person commits a crime on a child, that having pictures on a computer is not a good thing and so we act. Yet at the same time, we can differentiate this behavior from others where people have legitimate wholesome pictures of their families on their computers.

    Note: I also recognize that when it comes to dealing with motives, there's a fine line, and great caution, discerntion, and safeguards need to be protected and in place. However, at the same time, it's a shame that when someone as troubled as the Virginia Tech student showed as many indicators as he did, that besides one counseling session, all those who knew there was a problem knew their hands were completely tied until the individual actually acted in bringing harm and death to someone else, which he demonstrated in this day and age is and can be linked by only a fraction of time until he does the same with the next and many other individuals.

    Hopefully, I've made myself clear, that my thoughts and intentions are in NO WAY wanting to put the freedom of religion and proclamtion in jeapordy ... that would be the WORST thing that could happen for our country; but at the same time, I question whether "free speech" was originally intended to mean and include as well as to protect all forms of "evil" thought, communication and expression, ... and at the same time, if experience and lessons learned call for us (not to undo, but to) GO FURTHER than the first amendment, by additional defining and clarification.

    My ULTIMATE POINT in my post though, given the thrust of Christian Skepticism, was to show that regardless of how all this applies at the level of the state, that the SCRIPTURAL WISDOM, COMMAND, and PRINCIPLE or pursuing those things that are "excellent and praiseworthy" are ideals that are not only supreme, but that far exceed principles set by and practiced by man in other areas, for only Christianity poses a righteousness that is perfect, and provides for the attainment of that through the justification that comes by Christ, and that leads to sanctification, including the renewal and transformation of the individual, who is to have good and righteous in the places he lives and upon others he is around, along with the government God has established.

    jazzycat said...

    You stated in your original post that hate crime legislation was a good thing. I must completely disagree with making the motive for a crime (hate) a crime. If the motive in a crime is a crime, then the same motive without the crime would logically also be a crime. This has already prompted liberal politicians to affirm that hate speech incites hate crimes (Pastors calling homosexuality a sin is thus considered a hate crime). It is logical step (especially with the total lack of discernment in our country) from making the motive (hate) a crime to making (hate) speech a crime. This thinking is already PC in our country. Therefore, I am opposed to having any kind of hate crimes. Punish crimes regardless of motive is my view. Make the penalties much tougher if you want.

    Your question (1)…… My short answer is yes (No restrictions on any LEGAL ‘written word’ speech or private speech). I am for decency laws that would prevent violent and sexual material from being on billboards, signs, ads, etc. IOW keep this material concealed from public in an in your face manner. Even FCC regulated advertisements of today would be a huge shock to people of the fifties. There should be no freedom of speech for illegal activity and I am for law enforcement agencies to have much discretion in investigating illegal activity. There should not be so much restrictions such as the privacy laws that keep law enforcement from sharing information. In the VTech case perhaps the gun purchases could have been prevented with a little better system. I am for that.

    If I were a university president, I would immediately hire armed security guards for each and every building on my campus without waiting for consensus from a bunch of PC liberal professors. If necessary, I would use funds that are being wasted on all the liberal “diversity” hogwash to pay for it. Nothing will come close to protecting unarmed students better than armed guards. NOTHING.

    Your question and suggestion (2)….. I think we would be better off not tinkering with a carefully worded amendment. The liberal secular anti-Christian forces are in firm control of information and what is to be accepted in our country and I am convinced that you would not be happy with what they would come up with. In short I have zero trust that they could improve the system as we have it now. You must remember that most of what you object to is what liberals call “artistic expression” and “personal freedoms.” I am always amazed at how clever they are at calling evil, good and good, evil. I really believe we will have a full time job keeping the religious freedom we now have without letting secular liberals start tinkering with our religious freedoms. Many of them believe that the religious right (you and me) are as big a threat to America as is the terrorist threat.

    I believe we would be better served to offer and push for stronger “specific target” laws and more responsibility out of the sponsors of porn and violence in America. For example we should have laws that prohibit the promotion of the homosexual agenda in our schools. We can restrict where and how propaganda is disseminated without banning it.

    Swordbearer said...


    You bring up some excellent points. I appreciate your sharp mind and your political awareness and understanding.

    While some might be tempted to view this discussion as "Christians can't agree", I believe it to good conversation where "iron sharpens iron", and healthy conversation on timely, significicant and sometimes difficult issues (not always clear cut but involving judgement in certain areas). While perhaps this might "thinking out loud" may have better been done in private, I trust it's good for others to see Christians discuss issues, confront them head on, desire good for society, uphold and agree on values and righteousness, and not be afraid to voice opinions. We need more of this, not only in our country but around our dinner tables and in our Christian gatherings.

    Several responses:
    1. You are right in "discernment" or the lack thereof being a significant issue. This not only must be taken into account, but I believe more and more, depending on the degree to which society and its leaders depart from Christian beliefs, values, goals, thinking and practice.

    2. I point out that just as in the book of Exodus, while the law itself is sufficient, there are times and places where case law can be helpful in addressing specific situations and providing clarity by "working out" the law (not by changing it).

    3. Regarding hate and hate crimes, you bring up some valid points. I would only add:
    a. Hate (in the big picture) is criminal. God will certainly deal with it.
    b. Note: I recognize there's a difference between the surety of God's bringing and executing final justice and our ability and responsibility to legislate/control it through human government.
    3. While you are right in your concern about legislation concerning judging motives, there's still a difference between the position and passion (or hate) and the speech, even though there's an even greater difference between these and other types of actions related to hatred such as hazing, killing, etc. While I'm claim no knowledge of law in these areas, I do recognize that there's a difference between speech that speaks to a particular issue and speeck that incites others toward violence toward an individual. (Again, response # 1 applies.)
    4. Regarding your "keep the material concealed" statement/mindset, I think in this area you may have caved in (as you suggested I had in a different area). The point being that homosexuality and lust are wrong (sin), whether you and I are involuntarily forced to witness it or not. I believe as Paul says that homosexuality is unnatural, as is to a point that any reasonably thinking person can/should recognize that. I don't buy the "it's okay if others do it as long as I don't have to see it." For in allowing that, you're doing several things: failing to call a blantant sin what it is, giving those who seek to promote that sin encouragement and a crack in the wall, open society to greater exposure to the sin, and in one sense condone it (even if in private)etc.
    5. In thinking on this, I agree the amendment does not need to be tinkered with. I'm still unsure as to whether "case law" may be helpful in both strengthening our positive freedoms, as well as giving law enforcement the ability and tools needed to protect and serve. (Note: even in the former I recognize that tinkering could result in less freedom, if wisdom, discernment and righteous application were not applied. (It reminds us that in this world, not even the constitution can ultimately ensure our freedom. Another reason to be thankful to God for the current freedoms we enjoy and do all we can to protect them and not give them away.)
    6. While my purposes are ecclesiastical and not political, Christians must be reminded that it is a battle, and we must continue our guard, for our freedoms, values and positions will continue to come under assault.

    Finally, I return to the primary objective of my thread once again. The only point I intended to make was that the BIBLICAL call and command is a STANDARD that everything human, including government and our laws FALL FAR SHORT OF. (Note: I recognize that our laws much take into account man's fallen nature, and decide what is essential to legislate for the good of all and what is not) and make allowances in other areas. This being said though, the standard both by which we all will be judged and to which we all should strive is given to us in the Scripture. I point this out, simply to draw attention to the PERFECTION of God's Word, and it's SUPREMACY when it comes to moral and ethical standards and guidance over that found in other sources!