U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis famously wrote that the answer to objectionable speech “is more speech, not enforced silence.” This seems a most reasonable proposition. If you are offended by someone’s position, you can counter it with your own arguments and expose their error for the world to see and reject. It is a concept that has served our Republic well in the fight for liberty and freedom.
The concept applies to all areas of the First Amendment, not just free speech. Freedom of the press demands it. We always hear complaints about a biased media, but the answer to such complaints is more media. We do not want the government policing newsrooms, like dictators do. What we want are more voices in media, so that people are free to listen and make up their own minds about any particular story.
Lest we think this is all a theoretical exercise with little practical application, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently, after immense criticism, backed away from its “Multi-Market Study of Critical Information Needs,” where it intended to examine “the process by which stories are selected.” According to FCC Commissioner Afit Pai, the FCC wanted to have government officers in TV and radio newsrooms “to grill reporters, editors and station owners about how they decide which stories to run.” The proposal was tabled, but the idea lives, as it always has. Americans are wise to continue to reject such efforts.
Freedom of assembly is guarded by the principle as well. If an assembly of people is particularly offensive, it is the right of the people to assemble in opposition. Except in very rare circumstances, this will preserve freedom for everyone.
That is also the case with religious freedom. The answer to a particularly offensive religion or religious practice is more religion. Expose the error.
A particularly offensive part of our history was the fact that, despite our Judeo-Christian foundations as a nation, we allowed slavery to continue within our midst. Many even used the Bible to justify the heinous acts committed against African-Americans. But notice the answer to this clear violation of the Bible, Natural Law, and our Constitution was to appeal to religion itself.
Abraham Lincoln certainly appealed to it. He said, “I know there is a God and that He hates injustice and slavery. I see the storm coming and I know that His hand is in it. If He has a place for me, and I think He has, I believe I am ready.” And again, “The battle for freedom is to be fought on principle. Slavery is a violation of eternal right. We have temporized with it from the necessities of our condition, but as surely as God reigns and school children read, that black foul lie can never be consecrated into God’s hallowed truth.”
While some today would blame religion for the troubles we faced and, therefore, cry out for government hostility towards religion, which they see as a great evil, Lincoln fought the distortion of religion with more religion. With Truth.
Martin Luther King, Jr., did the same thing. Let us never forget that he was a Christian minister. Therefore, he didn’t want to abolish our form of government, our Constitution, or our Judeo-Christian foundations. He actually sought for the country to live up to those ideals. He called us back to the Christian principles that demand freedom.
His “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” is a most powerful document of appeal to a higher law. He cried out for those “God-given rights” acknowledged in our Declaration of Independence and guaranteed by our Constitution. Listen to his explanation of a just law:
A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law.
He appeals to Jesus, Amos, Paul, Martin Luther, and Lincoln. He even indicts the church’s inaction on this matter, “The judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century.” He understood that the answer to objectionable religious practices, and even apathy, is more religion, not enforced atheism in the public square.
Today’s America is in danger of losing that vision, opting to silence dissenting views, especially religious views in the name of “separation of church and state” or equality or reproductive rights. Hostility toward religion is neither required by our Constitution nor desirable in a free and just society. Only those who are insecure of their position seek to impose it by force by silencing their opposition. Therefore, let us be alert to those who seek to silence us, and let us reject their freedom-stifling ideas.
As long as we are able and committed to fight the abuse of the First Amendment with the virtue of the First Amendment, we shall preserve liberty and freedom. If we fail, oppression is sure to follow.
Mario Diaz is legal counsel for Concerned Women for America.