Rev. Van Baren is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Hudsonville, Michigan.

The Vaunted Freedom of Speech

We hear much about the freedom of speech we enjoy in the United States. It is true that we still have considerable leeway with respect to our freedom of speech. But the restrictions on free speech are growing. Though one is presumably “free” to curse God at will, and one is “free” to present the evils of pornography (within certain limits), the freedom to confess one’s faith under some circumstances is forbidden. The following article from The Crusader, March, 1988, indicates the limits of “freedom of speech” when the contents are religious:

MOSS BLUFF, La (RFC)—She was commended by President Reagan for a speech she didn’t deliver. And because she couldn’t deliver it, Sam Houston High School in Moss Bluff has a lawsuit on its hands.

Angela Kay Guidry was valedictorian of the 1987 class and she prepared her speech for presentation before the graduates. She explained her philosophy of life and what had been her principal source of motivation in excelling in her studies.

The young scholar presented a draft of her speech to the principal at Sam Houston, Kerry Durr. He seemed at first to approve. “You can’t argue with that,” he said at first.

Miss Guidry’s speech was her honest evaluation of what had made her click in school and she unashamedly expressed the idea that as a rule, everything one does should be done as if it were being done to please God.

This is quite a common notion among Christians, running the gamut from fundamentalists and evangelicals to some of the more staid Calvinist groups which historically have put great stress on this doctrine which emerges from the Gospel.

“To me, the most important thing in your life is not whether you have a good education or a good job, but whether or not you have the Lord in your life . . . . It doesn’t matter how many years you go to school or how successful you are in this life, if you’re not doing it all for the Lord.”

She included in her speech that it was never to be an appeal for others to take to heart what she had said of relating their lives to God’s will.

Even though Mr. Durr at first seemed to give verbal approval of her remarks, the school guidance counselor, Sylvia Seals, requested that the principal have her modify the speech. When it got down to the finality, the principal said that if she did not delete all references to religion in it, she would not be permitted to deliver it.

The student, seeing it as violating her true feelings in what she wanted to say to her colleagues, refused. She saw no necessity to compromise what she had to say simply because it was religious in nature.

She was confronted by the guidance counselor, and attorneys for the student said rude and unseemly remarks were made about Miss Guidry and her religion.

When the student tried to walk away, attorneys from the Rutherford Institute of Virginia, who are representing her, said the guidance counselor “grabbed her arm and continued making derogatory and slanderous remarks” about Miss Guidry’s religious beliefs.

Mr. Durr wrote to the Rutherford Institute that he and others at the school were fearful that if she were permitted to express her religious views, it would be tantamount to the school endorsing those views.

Not so, the Rutherford Institute replied.

The attorneys said a “valedictorian address is, by its very nature, a personal bidding of farewell” by a graduating student, implying that its religious content was not subject to suppression by an outside influence.

The suit holds that the student was unconstitutionally deprived of “a meaningful opportunity to exercise her right of free speech and freely express her sincerely-held beliefs. ” . . . .

So, “free speech” has its limitations. Perhaps one could not expect anything different from public schools. These are not “neutral,” but actively involved in keeping any worship of God out of these schools. All of this must give Madalyn Murray O’Hair cause to rejoice. She has been celebrating the 25th anniversary of “prayer-free public schools,” boastfully explaining how she used a bit of deception to accomplish her purpose (reported in Christian Renewal, Nov. 14, 1988):

Members of American Atheists and their leader, Madalyn Murray O’Hair, munched cake and sipped champagne in Austin to celebrate 25 years of prayer-free public schools and the opening of the groups new headquarters. O’Hair, 69, conceded she used a bit of trickery in her campaign in the early 1960s to have prayer and Bible reading banned from the nation’s public schools. She said she invented a non-existent public interest group so it would not appear that she was fighting the battle alone. “The public wasn’t willing to listen to just one single woman along with two kids tugging at her. . . so what I did was invent the Maryland Committee for the Separation of Church and State, which really didn’t exist.

The Creation Issue

Many have written, and are writing, about the issue of “theistic” evolution as that has been taught by Dr. Howard Van Till at Calvin College. At issue too are the published views of Dr. Davis Young and Dr. Clarence Menninga, professors of geology at Calvin. Calvin College, understandably, has been trying to calm the waters. In the Calvin College Spark (Sept. 1988) an article appeared entitled, “Confronting the Creation Issue.” This is condensed in the latest issue of Calvin Today (Fall, 1988). One of the questions addressed to the president of Calvin College, Anthony Diekema, was this: “Do the professors believe in Adam and Eve as historical people? Some people have said they don’t.” His answer was:

Yes, indeed they do. Each of them has repeatedly affirmed Adam and Eve as historical persons—as does anyone who affirms the Belgic Confession. Some of their critics say they don’t, but they apparently haven’t asked them. That is really unfortunate and grossly unfair. For example, far too many people are speaking for Van Till rather than listening to him, or even reading carefully what he writes. So, yes, these professors do believe in Adam and Eve as the first humans and the progenitors of all human beings to follow. They also affirm the Fall—the choice of Adam and Eve to disobey God’s call to obedience—as a real historical phenomenon.

That answer, designed to reassure, nevertheless leaves some troubling questions to which I have not yet seen the answers. First, Van Till terms the first eleven chapters of Genesis as “primal history” which is the “packaging rather than the content itself”; but then how does the account of a literal Adam and Eve and a literal fall fit in with this? How is it that everything of the creation week is “packaging” except that section which speaks of Adam’s creation and fall? Secondly, one must explain the existence of death during the millions of years before the fall—if death was the sentence of God against the sin committed by Adam when he fell as Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 claims. Thirdly, when Genesis speaks of Adam’s creation from the “dust of the earth,” was this also a literal and direct act of God—or is this part of the packaging which is designed to explain that God caused Adam to arise from earlier life-forms in the process of evolution?

It is no wonder that many in the Christian Reformed Church are deeply concerned about what is taking place. It seems to me they have reason for great concern.