The Flushing of Free Speech
Paul Dean Dr. Paul J. Dean's Weblog
- 2005 Jun 24
"Responding to the Middle east riots allegedly sparked by the retracted Newsweek Quran-in-toilet story, Democratic Rep. John Conyers Jr. has proposed a congressional resolution that condemns defamation of Islam's book. According to Conyers' weblog, the resolution was drafted to 'oppose religious intolerance.'" On the surface, this resolution sounds reasonable enough. Why would a reasonable person want to defame the Quran? Of course, the word "defame" must be defined. Certainly, Christians should have no desire to disparage the Quran in a hateful way. But, Christians should unequivocally point out the falsity of the Quran. Yes, Conyers' resolution sounds reasonable. At second glance however, at least four problems emerge.
First, such a proposal is unconstitutional in that it violates every citizen's right to free speech. The First Amendment guarantees such and was designed specifically for and in regard to religious speech. The resolution itself states that "it should never be official policy of the United States Government to disparage the Quran, Islam, or any religion in any way, shape, or form." With that sentiment we heartily agree. But, neither should it be official policy of the United States government to curtail free speech in any way, shape, or form. To do so would ultimately lead to the abandonment of religious freedom.
Further, the Bible itself supports free speech. As a general principle, no where in Scripture do we find God telling us that we should force others to curtail their speech. God does tell us to influence others with the gospel. He does tell us that certain speech is deemed as sin by Him. But, He does not tell us to force others to cease and desist from political or religious speech, even that speech which is of a disparaging nature. While Christians do not condone malicious treatment of other faith claims or their corresponding religious artifacts including holy books, they do recognize that free speech guarantees persons the right to be offensive. The gospel (evangelical/biblical) method of changing society is not legislative coercion. The gospel (evangelical/biblical) method of changing society is gospel proclamation.
How often is the Bible defamed in public schools, in political debate, by network media, or by Hollywood? When the Bible is disparaged, Christians don't respond like brutal savages as did those who instigated riots in response to the Newsweek story. Let the Muslims change their ways. Let them put murder as a response to mere words aside. Let us not curtail the liberty of the disrespectful to appease the fanatical. The very notion of curtailing free speech in response to such uncontrolled malice is beyond belief. To squelch free speech is to squelch ideas, enlightenment, and liberty.
Second, the resolution brings the government into a sphere in which it has no business. Neither legislation (which this measure by Conyers is not) nor governmental declaration (which this measure is) is the answer to all of life's problems. In fact, government intrusion is one of the biggest problems with which every day people must wrestle simply to survive. To continue on this course will ultimately mean that the people will have to be very careful regarding what they say about someone else's religion or holy book lest their come a day when we move from resolution to legislation and find ourselves subject to being hauled in before the tribunal.
Let us affirm that at one level, Christians agree with the spirit of the resolution as it relates to "condemning bigotry and religious intolerance, and recognizing that holy books of every religion should be treated with dignity and respect." However, tolerance, for the Christian, has to do with protecting freedom of religion and freedom of speech. The Christian (who understands the Scriptures) fights for the right of the Muslim to worship the false god Allah just as he fights for his own right to worship the true and living God revealed in Christ Jesus. But the Christian does not tolerate Islam in the sense that the politically correct pundits of our day tolerate Islam (regardless of whatever view Conyers holds). To be tolerant in the politically correct view is to affirm that all religions or truth claims are equally valid and true. Christians do not view Islam as a valid truth claim but as a false religion that leads to destruction. Christians must be unequivocal about the truth and not change the definition of tolerance. However, they do not hate the individuals who are Muslim nor do they tolerate bigotry. They treat the Quran with dignity and respect while affirming that the Quran is indeed heretical. Let us not confuse disrespect with disagreement.
At the same time, let us not affirm the actions of rioting and murderous zealots. After preaching to almost one thousand teenagers in a parking lot one evening, we distributed New Testaments to each one of them. When the parking lot was empty, we found a hundred or so of those New Testaments on the ground. Interestingly, while I grieved for lost souls that night, I did not get angry at any of those who defamed and trampled the word of God. I certainly did not kill anyone. But that's the difference between the love of Christ and the hatred of Islamic fundamentalism.
Moreover, informed Christians do not agree with Conyers or the resolution when it "recognizes Islam as a religion of 'peace.'" The Quran itself testifies to the falsity of that notion which is nothing more than political spin.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, the resolution would in effect open the door to making any statement against another religion, including the statements made heretofore in this commentary (...Islam...is a false religion that leads to destruction...the Quran is indeed heretical...), hate crimes punishable by law. Remember, ideas have consequences. The door would be opened, if only slightly, to legislative action dangerous to freedom. Christians could not go to the coffee shop and say that Allah is not the true God. Preachers could not stand in their pulpits and say that Islam is a religion of dead works that leads to temporal hatred and eternal misery. Who knows what other dynamics would be criminalized? Occasionally when I'm in a hurry, I may toss my Bible across the room onto the sofa as I walk out. Would tossing the Quran in the same way be deemed criminal?
Must we point out that such a resolution would effectively be a violation of the free exercise clause of the same First Amendment mentioned earlier? "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." If a Christian can't say that Islam is false, the free exercise of his religion has just been squelched.
Fourth, the resolution highlights Islam to the exclusion of other religions (though other religions are mentioned in passing). No doubt exists that other religions would be included and protected by this measure and presumably from future legislation fostered by it. However, two glaring realities must be considered.
The first reality is that a massive public relations campaign is under way in this country regarding Islam. While there is no doubt that there are peace loving Muslims, Islam itself is far from peaceful. Make no mistake; Islam's goal is world conquest.
The second reality is that ultimately Christianity will not receive the same protection in a politically correct environment because it makes an exclusive truth claim. That kind of thinking will not be tolerated, much less protected. Consider the resolution's wording. It "(1) condemns bigotry, acts of violence, and intolerance against any religious group, including our friends, neighbors, and citizens of the Islamic faith; (2) declares that the civil rights and civil liberties of all individuals, including those of the Islamic faith, should be protected; (3) recognizes that the Quran, the holy book of Islam, as any other holy book of any religion, should be treated with dignity and respect; and (4) calls upon local, State, and Federal authorities to work to prevent bias-motivated crimes and acts against all individuals, including those of the Islamic faith." This wording raises important questions. How will intolerance be defined? How are civil rights and civil liberties not being violated with a curtailment of free speech now? What would be classified as a "bias-motivated crime?" Would refuting the truth claims of Islam be viewed as such? Christians could agree with those issues numbered above if only the politically correct pundits defined their words and statements the same way the average individual does. But, neither they nor the liberal elite do such. Want to know their translation? In this politically correct climate, when one understands that this culture's definition of intolerance is that one must affirm the validity of all truth claims and deny any exclusive truth claim (such as Jesus is the only way to salvation), then one understands that this resolution will be one more step toward making all biblically committed evangelicals criminals.
Lest one doubts the truth of such a charge and the seriousness of such a resolution, consider that "under an Italian law against defaming Islam, best-selling writer and journalist Oriana Fallaci, who resides in the U.S., was ordered [recently] to stand trial in her home country for what she wrote in a recent book. Muslim activists accused Fallaci of inciting religious hatred in her 2004 work 'La Forza della Ragione,' or 'The Force of Reason.' Fallaci wrote that terrorists killed 6,000 people over the past 20 years in the name of the Quran and said the Islamic faith 'sows hatred in the place of love and slavery in the place of freedom'...in Pakistan, controversial blasphemy laws carry a possible death sentence for offenses against the Quran and defamation of Islam's prophet Muhammad... Earlier this year, a Pakistani court sentenced a Christian man to seven years in prison for desecrating the Quran...Pakistan's Religious Affairs Minister Ejaz ul-Haq admitted last September that the law has been abused. Between 1927 and 1986 there were only seven recorded cases. But since 1986, more than 4,000 have been brought." What is the reason for the incredible increase? One has to point to the global culture of political correctness and postmodernism. No doubt some will say that America would never come to such a place. Save your money; don't bet on it.
Should affirmation be forthcoming in regard to a congressional resolution to oppose religious intolerance the way the liberal elite mean it (and presumably Conyers as well)? While we have no ill feelings toward Conyers, but only a difference of opinion, we must resolutely say in regard to that kind of resolution, it is one that we cannot tolerate. The danger of the resolution is that in language that actually calls for freedom of religion and religious tolerance, it actually denies such by not allowing free speech in regard to particular religions. The resolution states that "the infringement of an individual's right to freedom of religion violates the Constitution and laws of the United States." One is hard pressed to understand how offensive speech against and individual's holy book is an "infringement of an individual's right to freedom of religion." At the same time, it is clear that not allowing speech regarding religion is a violation of freedom of religion. Conyers has it backwards. Let us not flush free speech simply because someone may have chosen to flush the Quran. Rather, let us flush Conyers' resolution.