The Modern Attack on Freedom
It’s a brief amendment to the U.S. Constitution, but one so significant our local newspaper includes it on its daily editorial page: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
In less than 50 words, the First Amendment has provided a cornerstone for our nation’s freedom for nearly 245 years:
- Freedom of religion means no government-approved churches exist, nor can anyone be forced to join a church.
That is a positive thing, as pointed out by my brother when he visited Germany on the 400th anniversary of the Reformation in 2015. He talked about the pastoral-heavy staffs at churches supported by government taxes, with little vibrancy within those congregations.
In the past, I have read articles that approved of the idea of requiring pledges of fidelity to Christian beliefs among political leaders. But that would produce a flock of “go along to get along” church members, who belong more for societal approval than heart-felt reasons.
- Freedom of speech means we are free to speak our mind.
This is worlds apart from the repressive confines of places like China or the reawakening Russia, where opposing the president could cost someone their life.
It’s also one that is under serious attack, in the form of speech codes or social media giants banning former president Donald Trump and some of his followers.
A Necessary Freedom
- Freedom of the press is a cherished right.
It has come under withering attack lately, with “fake news” turned into a mantra by people who haven’t thought much about the implications of destroying press freedom.
Our second president, Thomas Jefferson, put it best when he said: “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”
I know there have been abuses by media, whether it involves invasion of privacy, slanted reporting, or erroneous information.
But those who would place faith in a politician, a government bureaucracy, or a powerful corporation to tell the truth when it doesn’t suit their interests fail to grasp fallen human nature and the checks and balances offered by a free press.
- Freedom to assemble means groups of any stripe can come together.
This means Black Lives Matter supporters can march, protest, and try to marshal support for their cause. But so can conspiracy theorists and the like.
Democracy is a messy thing, and we don’t get to pick and choose between who gets a chance to speak up.
The freedom to assemble is a close cousin to the right to petition government. The latter regularly produces recall drives, policy initiatives, and other citizen-driven amendments that prevent government from assuming the overbearing nature seen in totalitarian societies.
In a nutshell, that is why—no matter how much one dislikes Trump—we should be greatly concerned about the aforementioned moves to muzzle the former president.
As technology industry consultant Lon Safko told Forbes recently, social media platforms “have overwhelmingly censored Trump and his administration. Any form of censorship, any form, is unacceptable.
“Social platforms such as Facebook, whose primary business is open communication between its over 2.7 billion members, have a moral and legal responsibility to allow those conversations to transpire, organically. All conversations, all sides of that conversation.”
Amen to that. When speech judges get started, there’s no telling where they’ll stop.