Conservative Principles & Assaults on Free Speech


With Texas (and a little sliver of Oklahoma) to our east and Arizona to our west, New Mexico is stuck in the middle of those more populous states. That’s okay. As far as geography goes, there’s much to be said for being in the middle. I like to visit Dallas and Phoenix (although the only time I’ve been to the latter, I was sick as a dog throughout the SBC Annual Meeting last year), but I wouldn’t want to live in either of those places. Whenever I say something like this, my wife tells me that’s where God will end up moving us. I should know better by now.

When it comes to where I personally stand on issues — theological, political, social, and economic —  I am most certainly not a moderate. In fact, the word moderate and some of its derivatives — like moderation — are words that I now look at through a different lens. Too often, it seems, people want to “moderate” their own views and to even help others “moderate” their views. In and of itself, that’s not a problem. However, too many people — politicians and preachers — want to so “moderate” views that they don’t like so that the political, social, or religious landscape is scrubbed of all things annoying.

We see that philosophy at work, even among self-professed conservatives. In Arizona, our neighbor to the west, the Republican-controlled legislature has passed a bill that would radically regulate and censor online communications. Don’t you just love it when conservatives, who should know better, start enacting radical policies that assault one of this country’s most precious freedoms? But, that’s exactly what is happening in Arizona. According to the Comic Book Defense Fund (that sounds funny, but I’m not making that up):

“The (Arizona) bill is sweepingly broad, and would make it a  crime to communicate via electronic means speech that is intended to ‘annoy,’  ‘offend,’ ‘harass’ or ‘terrify,’ as well as certain sexual speech. Because the  bill is not limited to one-to-one communications, H.B. 2549 would apply to the  Internet as a whole, thus criminalizing all manner of writing, cartoons, and  other protected material the state finds offensive or annoying.” (full article here)

As a conservative, I find this bill to be an absurd attempt to regulate speech, which in itself is a violation of and, full-frontal assault on, the First Amendment. You would think that conservatives would understand that the First Amendment protections for “freedom of speech and of the press” would be something worth fighting for and preserving. Instead, you have a Republican-controlled legislature censoring speech all in the name of an “anti-bullying” campaign. No one likes to be bullied, so this move to protect citizens from “bullies” sounds nice in theory, but those nice theories usually do not go over so well once they have been tested in the real world. Who gets to define speech that is intended to “annoy” or  “offend?”  Would my “cousin” CB Scott’s rubbing it in that SEC powerhouse Kentucky prevailed in the NCAA basketball championship be annoying? On second thought, maybe you shouldn’t answer that question.

Of course, “annoying” or “offensive” speech is in the eye (or ear) of the beholder. I suppose it all comes down to whose ox is being gored. Most people find it hard to tolerate — much less defend — speech that they find annoying. It goes without saying that some are easily offended, usually by words which they don’t like uttered by speakers or bloggers they don’t like. But, that’s the double-edged sword of the First Amendment. With one edge we will sometimes have to be subjected to speech that will annoy us or offend us. (If you’ve ever been around a Dallas Cowboys’ fan, you know exactly what I mean 🙂 ). Just think. As Christians, every time we share the Gospel of Jesus Christ, there is the very real possibility that we will “offend” people. Do we really want the state to pass laws which would censor all speech that anyone at anytime for any reason might find offensive? That edge also calls us to defend speech that we might find abhorrent and even un-Christlike (here and here).

But, the other edge of the sword is that which allows us to speak and write with freedom unlike any other country in the world. It is a freedom that allows us to share the Gospel with our neighbor on Saturday and to preach in the name of Jesus Christ — His Crucifixion and Resurrection — on Easter Sunday and throughout the year. It is a freedom that allows us to take a stand on the pressing moral issues of the day. It is a freedom that allows us to write blogs that question the judgment (and sometimes arrogance) of leaders, both within the political and religious worlds. It is a freedom worth fighting for.

Perhaps Barry Goldwater, then U.S. Senator from Arizona and Presidential candidate, said it best in his 1964 acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention:

I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!

Conservatives in political bodies like the Arizona legislature and conservatives in religious bodies like the Southern Baptist Convention would do well to remember Goldwater’s words. For true conservatives, these will be words to live by!

 

19 comments for “Conservative Principles & Assaults on Free Speech

  1. April 3, 2012 at 5:22 AM

    Howell,

    As usual, you offer unique insight couched in evident reason. Thank you. I hope our brothers on other SBC blogs will take note.

    With that, I am…
    Peter

    • April 3, 2012 at 8:10 AM

      Peter,

      Thanks. I have no doubt that others will take note. I’m afraid that the note they take will be the opposite of conservative, even though they will still try to come off as such. It is truly amazing to watch some say and do things that clearly contradict conservative philosophy and principles — both religious and political — but yet do not see it. I’ll try to keep pointing it out, even if it makes some uncomfortable. Maybe they will see it one day. Thanks again ahd have a great day! God bless,

      Howell

      • April 3, 2012 at 8:30 PM

        Howell, this is priceless:

        However, too many people — politicians and preachers — want to so “moderate” views that they don’t like so that the political, social, or religious landscape is scrubbed of all things annoying.

        If we scrub all things that are annoying we may as well close down the internet, and dump all the cell phones, turn off the televisions, and shut down all the newspapers…not to mention ban all advertisements and billboards and…… annoyance is in the eye of the beholder, the perspective of the reader, etc.

        This is already happening across the internet as you and I already know. People have a way to bully in what Lydia calls “totalitarian nice”.

        I write a weekly newspaper column for a local county paper here in my area. So the last two columns I’ve written my witty little thoughts about our esteemed POTUS. This week I sent her an article (actually an edited version of a blogpost that SBC Today picked up), We Can’t All be Friends… My editor writes me back as per normal and says, just wanted to let you know that I received a letter to the editor last week that complained about you speaking so negatively about the president, but I’m gonna publish your post anyway. Funny thing is, I hadn’t said anything about the POTUS in that column. I laughed but wrote her back that if she had any problems with my stuff that I would be happy to resubmit something else. No sense in her losing a subscription or advertiser, ya know? So, I did my best to think of something positive to say about Obama, and since I couldn’t I think I’ll write about the this piece you just put up. And what the guys in Arizona are doing. Freedom of speech is a curious thing. I’ll start publishing my devotionals about Jesus. That ought help…no one will be offended at what He had to say, huh?. selahV

  2. Sam Morgan
    April 3, 2012 at 7:47 AM

    AuH2O…I love it. Great post again, too. I see parallels to one of our greatest gifts since the creation: Free will. I just wish it was aeasier to delineate between “Freedom of speech” and the “Right to be heard”. I think the military is working on a ‘mute button’, but that’s probably oriented towards crowd control. Thanks.
    Sam

    • April 3, 2012 at 8:16 AM

      Sam,

      Freedom of speech is a funny thing. It obviously gives us rights as well as responsibilities. As Christians, we should try to use our rights in a way that builds up, not tears down. Of course, the problem becomes in defining the differeneces between the two. If I say something you like, then I’m building you up. If I say something you don’t like, then I’m tearing you down. People often would rather the government (or military) hit the mute button so they don’t have to be annoyed or offended. The First Amendment doesn’t work that way. We have the freedom to say things that will annoy and offend others just as others have the freedom to say things that will annoy and offend us. That’s the price we pay for living in a democracy. If wwe are tired of paying that price, maybe we should ask folks in China or Cuba if they would be willing to pay that price for a little taste of that freedom. Too many people who espouse their love for free speech would hit the mute button in a nanosecond. That’s why true conservatives should be extreme in defending our hard won freedoms. Thanks for standing on the front lines every day so that I and others can be free to write and preach with a freedom that no other country enjoys. Hope you have a great day and God bless,

      Howell

  3. April 3, 2012 at 8:22 AM

    Howell,

    Would you say that bloggers should follow the First Amendment and never moderate blog comments in any way?

    Note, I’m asking about moderating comments not simply deleting them.

    • April 3, 2012 at 8:40 AM

      Mark,

      Bloggers should follow the First Amendment which would allow them to do as they please with comments. I would invite you to read paragraph two of my previous post, “Absurdity, Petards, & Commenting Policies on SBC Blogs” for a clear (at least I hope) answer to that question. Thanks and have a great day. God bless,

      Howell

  4. cb scott
    April 3, 2012 at 10:56 AM

    To use another of Barry Goldwater’s statements a little bit “liberally” to affirm your post:

    “We all know in our hearts you are right.”

    I loved Barry Goldwater. 🙂

  5. Bennett Willis
    April 3, 2012 at 3:53 PM

    One of the most active organizations in terms of free speech is the ACLU.

    • April 3, 2012 at 5:48 PM

      Bennett,

      One of the problems with the ACLU is that they don’t always have as expansive of view of what free speech is, particularly when it comes to religious speech. I would see limitations on religious speech — be it sharing the Gospel with a co-worker or friend or preaching a sermon on a Sunday morning — as very problematic. I think that we are heading toward these limitations through laws designed to stop “bad” behavior, but which end up redefining certain speech as annoying or offensive. Thanks for stopping by. God bless,

      Howell

      • April 3, 2012 at 9:26 PM

        Howell, what about the difference between the police arresting that preacher who stood outside the DMV and read the Bible and the Westboro Baptist church that was allowed to protest funerals. How is one okay and not the other? selahV

        • April 3, 2012 at 10:14 PM

          Hariette,

          I just heard about the Bible reading preacher today. I will have to look into this more closely. Even though Westboro is repugnant in every way, the Supreme Court made the right decision in allowing the protests. That doesn’t mean that there cannot be reasonable “time, place, and manner” restrictions on protests, including Westboro. The easy answer as to the different treatments is that the preacher who was reading the Bible seems to be a traditional Christian while Westboro is so vile that authorities bend over backwards to let them protest. The harder answer — and the one I don’t know — is whether the preacher was somehow being disruptive in what he was doing, not that it was the content, but that how and where he was reading the Bible was somehow disruptive. It maybe entirely innocent, but I have known of some preachers to act in a belligerent way so as to not only draw attention to themselves, but to desire to get arrested. I’ll have study this one more closely. And, just to help you out the next time you have to write about POTUS, he does seem to be a loving and devoted father to his two girls. That’s something to commend, especially in a time when many fathers — particularly African-American fathers — are absent from the family. That one’s free — no commission required 🙂 Thanks and God bless,

          Howell

          • April 4, 2012 at 7:37 AM

            Howell, you have advised with wisdom and that is what I thought about writing in another column on Father’s Day week in June. My column, Common Matters, is broad and sweeping in content. Kinda reminds me of your blog here. I have the freedom to write about anything, including promotion of books, products I find worthy or not, services I find good or not-so-good, personalities I find detrimental influences like Matt Damon or positive ones like Tim Tebow. Most often I share a tidbit of my personal family life. It’s a funny thing to get a letter to the editor about a political subject matter wherein the political climate is by far a majority of conservatives. However, it seems that there is a pocket of “yellow puppies” within our county that does not find conservative values as highly I do I. I understand them…my dad was a bit jaundice till I got him to understand the party for which he’d been so loyal to had shifted so far away from where he literally stood, that there was no more earth beneath him on which to stand. I know that he is happier in heaven for his change of heart. 🙂 selahV

    • cb scott
      April 3, 2012 at 6:10 PM

      Bennett Willis,

      You are right. the ACLU is very active. The problem is they are on the wrong side in their activity. They are on the wrong side of God, humanity as a whole, Sanctity of Human Life specifically, biblical Christianity, baseball, apple pie, mother, and the American way.

  6. Lydia
    April 4, 2012 at 5:53 AM

    I know someone who has a ministry to the JW’s and Mormons in Canada. They lost their Canadian tax exempt status because they teach publicly that both groups are wrong. In other words, you cannot say that a religion is wrong. That is just another way to censor by putting restrictions on speech to keep tax status.

    I see us doing similar things without government coercion thinking it is “nice”. We say, oh you can disagree with the content but do not mention the person.

  7. April 4, 2012 at 11:58 AM

    Howell, in case you miss it, I’ve added to my concern regarding Marty Duren’s poignant post and warnings of the Supreme’s rulings regarding strip-searching for any and all infractions which lead to the arrest of any individual. This one has got to be the craziest ruling I’ve seen since Roe v. Wade. http://selahvtoday.typepad.com/selahv/2012/04/yet-another-reason-to-wear-clean-underwear-by-hariette-petersen.html
    selahV

  8. Bennett Willis
    April 4, 2012 at 4:18 PM

    Strip-searching seems to me to be largely an “attitude adjustment” activity. However, it does have some value in that it turns up things (guns, etc.) occasionally. I wonder if this prisoner protested his being taken in a “bit too much.” [It would have been hard not to be “indignant” since the arrest was not justified by facts.] If so, he may have stopped after the second search (again, the story is from memory and not refreshed even though you provided a link).

    Of course, there was the time a prisoner smuggled a gun into prison hidden in/under/between folds of fat–and as I recall the story, he was strip-searched. This shows that even the police can be “grossed out.”

    If this was a hijack event, blame Hariette. I’m just responding. 🙂

    • April 4, 2012 at 4:32 PM

      Bennett,

      No hijacking, here. I gave a very quick read to the actual majority opinion, written by Justice Kennedy. The word “strip search” is somewhat of a misnomer, in that it does not just mean literal up close and personal body cavity searches. In this case, the Court decided that strip searches for those who have actually been arrested (not just stopped for a traffic violation) and brought to jail are not unconstitutional violations of the 8th Amendment’s prohibition against “cruel and unusual punishment.” The ruling is more narrow than some might think. I’m not sure that anyone would want to be subjected to a “strip search,” but there have been instances when folks who were arrested for minor traffic violations (Oklahoma City bomber Tim McVeigh, who the Court cited as an example) were, in fact, extremely dangerous. The Court refused to rule these types of searches as automatically unconstitutional. Thanks and God bless,

      Howell

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