"The right to free speech and the unrealistic expectation to never be offended cannot coexist," rightly observed Philip Sharp. It seems, however, that the "unrealistic expectation" cited by the retired U.S. Army Ranger and author is being viewed increasingly as a right.
The belief that individuals have a "right" to not be offended seems to be gaining momentum in the United States. As this concept grows in popularity it is set to challenge one of America's first freedoms — the freedom of speech. If the "right" against offense ever triumphs, if it is ever enshrined in law, free speech, of necessity, will cease to exist.
The Founding Fathers believed that man is ultimately accountable to God and not government. As a result, they were quick to add the Bill of Rights to their newly drafted Constitution. The very First Amendment they adopted stated in part: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech ..."
Having chafed under an oppressive government that recognized only one official religion and oppressed political dissent, the Founders wanted individuals to be free to pursue the dictates of conscience in matters of faith and speech.
While they were not all were followers of Christ in the strictest sense of the word, there was a consensus among the Founders that biblical principles were acceptable, strong and necessary underpinnings for a solid society.
Make no mistake: the Founders were protecting the government form encroaching on any speech that might be deemed unpopular or offensive. They wanted to guarantee that dissent was allowed.
Fast forward to the past few decades and it appears there is growing dissatisfaction with the Founders' protection of speech. Though individuals, groups and sometimes those in the government have whined at times about offensive speech and the expression of dissent, the bulwark of the First Amendment has thus far held strong.
However, the assaults of political correctness — introduced in the latter half of the last century — pound against the idea of protecting speech, especially speech that might be considered by some to be offensive. Currently, it seems, many in America are willing to embrace freedom from offense over and above the freedom of speech.
For instance, homosexual activists claim that much offense and harm comes from those who espouse opposition to their lifestyle. Some even accuse conservative churches of practicing "spiritual" violence and abuse. They even insist that those who call homosexuality a sin — as the Bible describes it — drive some to commit suicide.
California recently passed a law that makes it illegal for a licensed counselor to offer therapy to a minor to help the child deal with and overcome homosexual feelings. Even if a teenager and his or her parents desire what is known as reparative therapy, the Golden State will not allow it.
If some homosexual activists get their way, speaking out against homosexuality will one day be outlawed in the U.S. They are more than willing to stifle free speech in their desire to not be offended.
As I write this, Muslims across the Middle East are violently protesting against America, in part, because of a film/video mocking Mohammed. Countries ruled by Islamic ideology employ blasphemy laws. These statutes punish — sometimes by death — any attack on Mohammad or the Muslim faith.
I have heard individuals — American citizens — who have advocated punishing those who dare speak against Islam, because they fear Muslim reaction. All they are really doing is advocating for the use of blasphemy laws here in the United States.
Please don't misunderstand me; I do not advocate offense just for the sake of offending. Christians must always ask themselves if their speech is appropriate for a given context or situation.
The truth, as the Apostle Paul instructed, must be shared in love. However, like Philip Sharp pointed out, "The right to free speech and the unrealistic expectation to never be offended cannot coexist."
"I know not what course others may take;" Patrick Henry famously declared, "but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!" We will either embrace the liberty of free speech or we will allow it to die at the feet of political correctness.
Kelly Boggs is a weekly columnist for Baptist Press
Published, October 2012
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