Freedom of Speech is for Adults

The powers-that-be would have labeled their talk “fake news” or “hate speech” if it were 2017.

The Apostles Peter and John challenged an agenda that had been working just fine for hundreds of years — until now. The Jewish authorities wanted to silence these two renegades. So, according to the record in the Book of Acts, the powerful Sadducees, a priestly branch of Judaism that did not believe in an after-life, were “greatly disturbed that they (Peter and John) taught the people and preached in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they laid hands on them, and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening.” (Acts 4:2-3 NKJV).

Later, they commanded Peter and John never to speak of that name (Jesus) again. Of course, we know they ignored the command and continued to say things the Jewish rulers and pious Jews found offensive. It was not what the Jewish leaders wanted to hear.

Too bad there was no “safe place” these people could flee to where they would not hear things that upset them, like there are on some college campuses. Or perhaps they could have garnered a mob to shout down the Apostles and run them out of town.

But, unlike then, here in America, we have freedom of speech. We have the Constitutional right to say what we think. Lately, when people do just that, they are frequently called “bigots” and accused of “hate speech.” One community actually wanted to bring charges against a group that merely quoted from the Bible. Of course the verses quoted did not agree with their agenda, hence “hate speech.” Kind of like those Sadducees.

I believe “freedom of speech” has two elements —a right and an obligation. The “right” is the freedom to express one’s thoughts or beliefs, even if they are unpopular. The “obligation” applies to adults, not two-year-old temper tantrum prone children. I have an obligation to hear, to listen, to concepts that I may find wrong or even appalling. It doesn’t mean I have to agree, but if someone has the right to speak, I have the obligation to listen, respecting the other person’s dignity and right to speak.

I do not engage in name-calling. I do not shout the person down, for fear that if they are heard, I may be proven wrong, or at least challenged. I respect that person’s right to express him or herself.

That calls for far more maturity than I am seeing now in our national dialogue. What happened to “I disagree with what you are saying but will fight to the death to protect your right to say it?” Can we not hear something personally offensive without needing to silence the speaker or flee to a safe place where we feel safe and not challenged?

It appears things have not changed since the days of the early church. Sadly, the Sadducees would feel very much at home in Congress or in the middle of opposing protestors.

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