Why Those Pesky Laws Forbidding Speech Matter

            We have all been in a public place when someone started sharing their beliefs without regard for our desire to go from one place to another without being confronted by any other person’s beliefs.  We have all experienced the street preacher who passionately shared his theology from the sidewalk—often making sure we understood that our theology, whatever it is, is wrong.

 

It is a natural reaction to think that this type of speech is something we could do with less of in public places. After all, we have churches where these people are welcome.  Why can they not preach in their own churches and leave the rest of us alone?

 

Once we understand that freedom of speech is a foundational freedom it is easy to understand why it is important that we do not tolerate intrusions that prohibit free speech in public places.  And when we further understand the idea expressed by Justice Scalia of the U.S. Supreme Court who said, “Freedom of speech without religious speech is like Hamlet without the Prince.”

 

I represented a pastor who was arrested for violating an ordinance like the ones considered by this article title.  In Hendersonville, North Carolina there was a local city ordinance that forbid anyone from “making a sermon” without the written permission of the chief of police.  As a result of the ordinance he was not just arrested, he was placed in jail overnight, chained to a post in the booking room for a couple of hours, and brought him shackled to meet with me—his attorney.

 

On its face this might not seem like such a bad idea, except that this means that you can only speak in public once you have a slip of paper saying that your free speech is permissible.  This is hardly free speech. 

 

We have to remember that what the government gives the government can take away.  That is why the Bill of Rights remains so important; those rights cannot be abridged or taken away without a significant act, like changing the Constitution of the United States.

 

  When a pastor is arresting for violating a free speech ordinance it is time for us to understand that these seemingly meaningless ordinances lead to great problems.

 

Why does this matter to the average one of us?  Think of a piece of cloth that does not have a hem on the edges.  Eventually those edges get frayed and have to be trimmed off making the cloth smaller.  Eventually the cloth is gone.

 

If the government can trim off the fringes of speech through unconstitutional local ordinances, then the edges are moved in and what was not fringe yesterday becomes the fringe tomorrow. The cycle repeats itself and soon we are hearing things like, “You cannot say that here.  Believe what you want inside the walls of the church, but do not bring that antiquated theology here.”

 

Finally, we get to the place where the only place religious speech is allowed is in the sanctity of the church.  Then, we will find someone wanting to determine what can be said from the pulpit because all of these young people go out into the real world with these backwards ideas.

 

Then, nothing is permitted that does not fit into the accepted norms of a secularly society.  Religious speech no longer exists.  And it all started from unconstitutional local ordinances that did not seem so bad at the time.

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C.S. LEWIS--Mere Christianity; CLAIRE BERLINSKI--Menace in Europe: Why the Continent's Crisis is America's Crisis, Too; BRUCE BAWER--While Europe Slept: How Radical islam is Destroying the West from Within; DAVID LEVERING LEWIS--God's Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe, 570-1215; THOMAS SCHIRRMACHER--The Persecution of Christians Concerns Us All; PHILIP JENKINS--God's Continent: Christianity, Islam, and Europe's Religious Crisis

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