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Activists Use Free Speech to Disrupt Free Speech Rally

Note from Jim: I am grateful to Nick Pitts, our Director of Cultural Engagement, for writing today’s Cultural Commentary. You can subscribe to his Daily Briefing, an overview of the news with biblical insights, by clicking here.

Activists at the University of Toronto disrupted a free speech rally led by a professor who refuses to address students with gender-neutral pronouns. In essence, activists exercised their free speech and in turn ended a free speech rally. The University Student Union wrote, “Tuesday’s rally was marred by bigotry and violence, and the Campus Police refused to intervene when they knew of and saw trans folks being assaulted.”

University of Toronto professor Jordan Petersen angered several people after releasing a presentation entitled, “Professor against political correctness.” In it, he condemned a new bill that could potentially punish individuals who “misgender” others.

In other free speech news, people are, shockingly, arguing on Facebook—or rather over Facebook policy. According to the Wall Street Journal, the 2016 election has ignited an intense internal debate about whether certain political posts should be removed for potentially violating the site’s rules regarding hate speech. Releasing a statement last week, Facebook said, “In the weeks ahead, we’re going to begin allowing more items that people find newsworthy, significant, or important to the public interest—even if they might otherwise violate our standards.” No word on whether they will be doing anything regarding the persistent Farmville invitations and Candy Crush requests.

A Gallup poll showed that 69 percent of college students said they would be in favor of prohibiting “intentionally offensive” speech on campus. 41 percent of Americans thirty-five and under think “the First Amendment is dangerous.”

George Washington noted, "If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter." French writer Alexis de Tocqueville said, "Nothing is more wonderful than the art of being free, but nothing is harder to learn how to use than freedom."

This freedom makes America great according to de Tocqueville: “The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults.” By eliminating free speech, the government “compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.”

For better or for worse, the ability to speak freely can enlighten us so that our footsteps may move toward a more perfect union. However, free speech may also mar the silence, proving Proverbs 10:19 true: when words abound, transgressions are inevitable.

In Christ, we have been set free (Galatians 5:1). We have great freedom but an even greater responsibility – especially in our conversations. Just because you have the freedom to do something does not mean it is beneficial to do it. I have the right to eat seven donuts this morning. However, the only people who stand to benefit from this decision are my local tailor and the donut shop.

Self-control is the true measure of freedom. For the Christian, God has provided for your every need (Philippians 4:19). As such, you can live a life that seeks to bless rather than take. Instead of using your freedom to take validation from others in conversations, you are free to give grace and lovingly speak truth. The goal is not to win an argument but to love a person.

You don’t have to save the world; someone has already done that. His name is Jesus.

Our call is not to save the world, but to be a light in the world and a fragrant aroma throughout it (Matthew 5:13; 2 Corinthians 2:14–15). As John Milton noted, “Let her [truth] and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter?”

The resurrection is a reminder that appearances can be deceiving. Our loving responses have a resurrected resolve that never returns void – though we may appear to lose in the moment.

We walk by faith, speak truth in love, and generously extend grace—even on Facebook.

Nick Note: This week, I am honored to be in New York to participate in the Movement Day Global Cities conference. Movement Day is catalyzing leadership teams from the world's largest cities to serve their cities more effectively by advancing high-level, city-changing collaborative partnerships.  This initiative was launched in 2010 by Dr. Pier, founder and CEO of The New York City Leadership Center. For updates throughout the week, check out my videos on our Facebook page.


Publication date: October 25, 2016


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