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“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 grievance.”

Do you recognize the above quote? Can you identify it?

It belongs to the Bill of Rights governing this fair land of ours, meaning, rights we as U.S. citizens have been guaranteed. The freedoms listed above comprise what is also known as the First Amendment and stand at the head of the list of our constitutionally granted rights.

Strikingly, the right to the ‘free exercise’ of religion, followed immediately by freedom of speech are the first two freedoms guaranteed.

The two are inexorably tied together. Prohibit the one (the free exercise of religion), and freedom of speech (and to preach) dies with it. Abridge the other (freedom of speech) and the expression of religion is no longer free. It is State controlled.

That said, another July 4 (U.S. Independence Day) has just been marked and celebrated, the 240th since the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

Whether we Christians should celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence as such raises some interesting questions. Ask any Protestant Reformed history teacher: should we give thanks to God for this declaration, this act of defiance? It was, after all, an act of rebellion against the God-ordained government of the land at that time, Great Britain.

Such acts are clearly condemned by Scripture.

If it is one thing disciples of Christ are not to be, it is revolutionaries, insurrectionists against the State (with its God-ordained magistrates). And that, no matter how wicked, corrupt, or oppressive the ruling government may be at any given time.

Against the libel of being threats to Caesar and fomenters of rebellion against the Roman State, the apostles and the early Christian church had to defend themselves again and again. And then, willingly they suffered terrible injustices at the hands of corrupt, wicked officials without retaliating in turn.

Such has been the testimony and behavior of the faithful in Christ’s church for over 2,000 years.

Yet for all that, it’s what took place on July 4, 1776 in Independence Hall in Philadelphia that served to put in place the freedoms so precious to us today. “Sweet land of liberty, Of thee I sing.”

That phrase was once found in the back of our Psalter. Who can deny that the song does have a certain ring to it.

God in His good providence used the revolutionaries of 1776 to provide His church in this great land of ours (note that we say “great land of ours,” not “great country of ours”) with its freedoms of religion and worship and speech to this present day; freedoms so vital for the free instruction of our children and for the free proclamation of the gospel here and abroad.

Well, a great ‘sea change’ is taking place before our eyes. Those freedoms are presently under powerful and relentless assault, in particular, freedom of speech. And once freedom of speech is sufficiently curtailed, freedom of religion and the right to worship and to assemble without government interference and prohibition will inevitably follow.

So it has been in every fascist, communist, and totalitarian government of the past 100 years. Think of Lenin’s communist Russia and of Stalin’s Soviet Union; think of Hitler’s Nazi Germany and of Mao Zedong’s communist China. In each regime the will of the ruling power was, “No citizen will open his mouth to criticize, disagree with, or condemn the laws and policies of this State! And if you do, we will silence you with legal restraints and consequences, using police force and imprisonment and worse, as we see fit. The State will view you and yours as criminals with no rights at all.” To be sure, in some instances trials were held, very public trials. But what the State called ‘due process of law’ was a mere charade, meant to intimidate the masses to conform. Or else!

That this is the direction in which these United States of America is heading becomes clearer every day.

A parishioner alerted me to a recent survey posted by the New Criterion magazine (November 2015), a survey that demonstrates the extent to which opposition to free expression has become the position of college students, which is to say, the coming generation, in alarming numbers.

The William F. Buckley Jr. Program at Yale recently commissioned a survey from McLaughlin & Associates about attitudes towards free speech on campus. Some 800 students at a variety of colleges across the country were surveyed. The results, though not surprising, are nevertheless alarming. By a margin of 51 percent to 36 percent, students favor their school having speech codes to regulate speech for students and faculty. Sixty-three percent favor requiring professors to employ “trigger warnings” to alert students to material that might be discomfiting. One-third of the students polled could not identify the First Amendment as the part of the Constitution that dealt with free speech. Thirty-five percent said that the First Amendment does not protect “hate speech,” while 30 percent of self-identified liberal students say the First Amendment is outdated.

Before we comment on the above survey, a comment by the author of the article in response to the survey is worth quoting. He points out:

We should be clear about what these results mean. It is not merely the case that most students like trigger warnings and think responsible faculty ought to include them. No, students think trigger warnings should be mandatory. Their concerns about the emotional needs—real or perceived—of their classmates comes first; the faculty’s free speech rights come second.

The reference to “trigger warnings” means students are to be told prior to a lecture or when material is assigned that they may be confronted by statements they judge hurtful to their preferences or practices. If so, they may be excused from the lecture or from having to read or do that assignment. It is left to each student’s discretion what he or she finds ‘discomfiting’ (as the survey puts it).

‘Discomfiting.’ A newly coined word. And one with huge legal implications, make no mistake. “Yes, your Honor, my client found the whole lecture extremely discomfiting, hence this lawsuit.”

What defense does one have?

As the author points out above, the key word in all of this is the word “mandatory.” Meaning, if the professor has not, in the judgment of a student, complied, he is to be reported to the university administration. And they are required to turn the case over to those new committees now sprouting up on campus after campus to judge what constitutes offensive and insensitive speech, which in turn will determine what degree of discipline should be applied.

In the end, one’s very tenure as professor will be at stake.

What are being formed on campus after campus these days are nothing less than committees of ‘thought police,’ committees on which youthful representatives of the ‘student body’ are to be well-represented, young zealots who like the youthful Saul of Tarsus are going to countenance no counter thought to their avowed ideology and convictions. Only here their ideology and convictions have nothing to do with Mosaic law and traditions, but with the new ideologies of gender, race, and every hot social issue in vogue. They are as fierce as wolves with the scent of blood in their nostrils. And Christianity, biblical Christianity with its ‘antiquated, repressive’ moral code, is the prey of choice.

One is reminded of what happened in communist China some 60 years ago, with the rise of the Red Guard, youthful zealots who, shouting their slogans, took it upon themselves to cleanse the land of all thought foreign to that of Chairman Mao. All upon whom suspicion fell (a word whispered in secret was sufficient to condemn one) were treated without mercy, often publicly in brutal fashion.

The youthful zealots growing in number on our nation’s college campuses are of the same spirit. The only freedom that a man (or administration) has is to think as they think.

But now, let us get back to the results of the survey itself.

First, as we stated, these results indicate what we called a ‘sea change’ in our society and, in particular, among college-age students (the products of the increasingly liberal and anti-Christian public school education of our day). In the tumultuous 1960s and ’70s those promoting radical, anti-establishment ideas were the foremost promoters of First Amendment rights. They defended their right to protest and disrupt campus life, as well as to hurl ‘discomfiting’ epitaphs left and right at every authoritarian figure they could think of, exactly by insisting that this was nothing less than a expression of their First Amendment rights.

They were exercising freedom of speech.

Censorship was the last thing they were interested in.

In striking contrast, the survey mentioned above shows a growing desire for increased censorship; 51% favoring speech codes, 63% wanting codes that in essence forbid a professor from saying anything in class that might make some feel uncomfortable (‘discomfiting’ them), and 30% of the self-identified ‘liberal’ students ready to call the First Amendment outdated, not nearly restrictive enough; meaning, they were in favor of State-applied censorship as a way of life.

What that last-mentioned result really means, we are convinced, is that only 30% of the liberal students were honest enough to admit that they had no interest in granting those who disagreed with them the right and freedom to express it publicly. And especially that is true when it comes to religion and Christians stating what they considered to be sin and error and displeasing to Almighty God.

How ‘discomfiting’!

Such freedom must be sharply curtailed.

To be sure, only 30% of the liberals polled admitted they judged the First Amendment to be outdated for our times. What has become self-evident is that censorship is part and parcel of the liberal agenda across the board, both in church and State, in university administrations and the federal courts. When in the minority, they vigorously insist on the right of dissent and to voice their contrary view. But put liberals in power and dissent by the ‘conservative’ party (whether in ecclesiastical or political affairs) is now denounced as divisive and working unrest in church and State. “Such are disturbers of the peace. This ought not be allowed. Censor them for their ‘hateful’ speech.”

What we find ‘discomfiting’ about the above results is not that students favor having a speech code as such. Surely, the parents of our Christian schools insist on a speech code. Scripture defines what is acceptable and unacceptable. No cursing, swearing, or vulgarity. No speaking to others in demeaning language. And the list goes on. And surely, lack of adherence to the speech code (or lack of enforcement by a teacher and administrator) could mean expulsion from our schools.

That’s not the problem.

Even in secular society freedom of speech does not mean one has the right to say whatever one feels like saying. In a landmark case dealing with First Amendment rights back in the 1920s, Chief Justice Holmes of the Supreme Court pointed out that the law does not protect one’s right to shout “Fire! Fire!” in a crowded theater, causing a panic and posing risk for injuries. Words that pose a real and present danger to the safety of others are not covered by the First Amendment.

In public universities there is room for speech codes of some sort. Should Christian students have to endure persistent blasphemy by lecturers or personal ridicule on campus simply because some hate and detest Christianity?

Of course not. Such ought to be forbidden.

And the same goes for subjecting gays and lesbians to public ridicule on campus or Muslims and their Allah to mockery.

Certainly, such is not the proper Christian response to these evils.

Such verbal abuses should be forbidden with penalties attached.

What we find ‘discomfiting’ with those advocating new speech codes is not a speech code as such, but what these young advocates have in mind with their newly installed speech codes. Or if you will, why they want to add to the present speech codes in place.

It is one thing for a public university to declare that university policy prohibits its faculty and students from ridiculing or verbally assaulting anyone due to their race, color, creed, or even sexual preference. It is another matter to put in place policies that are meant to prevent and silence dissent on matters of religion, morals, policies, and issues of national laws.

And that is what this move towards greater censorship on campuses is all about.

And once in place there, you may be sure such censorship will be applied to the ‘market place’ as well.

What the newly self-appointed ‘thought police’ have set about to do is to intimidate college administrations into adopting their very lenient code of ethics and (im)moralities. They will then forbid anyone, whether professor or student, the right and the freedom to express one’s dissent to these newly established standards and policies. They have no interest in granting those who think differently the freedom to present their own convictions and assessments.

Such is the mentality of liberal zealots on campuses today.

It is one thing to maintain that freedom of speech is not license to verbally assault another’s person, to ridicule his beliefs, or endanger one’s safety. It is another to curtail freedom of speech so that one no longer has the right to voice dissent against prevailing opinions and laws. Legalized abortion and gay ‘marriage’ come to mind.

Such is liberal mentality. No one should have the right to label such things as sin, condemned by God and His Word. Such declarations make too many feel uncomfortable.

It was exactly to protect the right to voice such dissent, and that in a public fashion without fear of legal reprisal, that the Bill of Rights, and the First Amendment in particular, was drawn-up and adopted.

Whatever weaknesses this nation’s founding fathers might have had, their understanding of what constituted freedom of speech in civil affairs and the truly free exercise of religion was not one of them. They understood that the curtailing of these freedoms could lead to but one thing—tyranny! Tyranny of thought itself.

In the end, anything but liberty and justice for all.

What is developing today on college campuses places these freedoms in jeopardy. A muzzle is being prepared to silence biblical truth and its testimony against society’s abominations and falsehoods.

We know the days must come. The evidence mounts that the evil is closer than we may think. There is a tide in human affairs that presently runs heavy against what is good and right and true.

And a hurricane of evil repression blows behind it.

The urgency to teach our children what is right and true has never been greater.

But God be thanked, even when the day comes that society informs us that it has removed our right to freedom of speech, God will inform us that in His judgment we still have the right to speak freely and bear testimony.

In fact, it will be our solemn calling.

Ultimately, our freedom of worship and speech does not hinge on our nation’s Bill of Rights, but on our status as citizens of Christ’s kingdom.

As for the laws of that Kingdom, the laws of no earthly kingdom or society can abridge, abrogate, or supersede them.