Monday, July 03, 2006

Afraid of Freedom?

Tomorrow is the Fourth of July, the day that we as Americans celebrate our nation's independence. But we celebrate more than the fact that our ancestors successfully revolted against Great Britain and established an independent nation. The Fourth of July is a celebration of freedom. If there is anything that sets America apart from other nations, it is the degree to which we identify ourselves with the concept of freedom. Our National Anthem refers to America as "the land of the free." In the Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln spoke of America as a nation that had been "conceived in liberty." It is nearly impossible to think of America and not think of freedom. However, it seems that here in the early 21st century, we Americans are increasingly afraid of freedom.

Freedom is a messy thing. Freedom means that people can express views that you or I find repugnant. Freedom means that others can live in a way that we find immoral. Freedom means that people can make unwise choices. It is precisely because freedom is so messy that periodic efforts are made in the name of security, stability, or tolerance to place restrictions on freedom. Two recent examples from the news demonstrate that those on both the left and right sides of the political and ideological spectrum are increasingly uncomfortable with freedom. Both are examples of a growing trend to attempt to suppress expression that some find offensive.

  1. In Clark County, Nevada, school officials cut off the microphone of valedictorian Brittany McComb during her valedictory address when she deviated from the pre-approved text of her speech to talk about how Christ has brought true meaning and fulfillment to her life. School officials claim that people might have construed McComb's remarks as a promotion of religion on the part of the school district. Give me a break! In all my life, I have never met one person who thought that a high school valedictorian spoke on behalf of the school rather than himself or herself when giving his or her valedictory address. I know that when I gave my valedictory address in 1990 that I was speaking for no one other than myself.
  2. Last week in the United States Senate there was a debate and vote on a proposed constitutional amendment that would give Congress the power to prohibit the desecration of the American flag. The amendment fell one vote short of the two-thirds vote it needed to pass. This is a tough one. On one hand, an overwhelming majority of Americans want to criminalize flag desecration. But on the other hand, one of the things that makes this such a great nation is that we allow people to express unpopular and even offensive views.
One of the costs we pay to live in a civil society is that we give up a degree of freedom. Even in America, we have never been promised absolute freedom. Freedom does not allow a person to do everything that he or she wants to do without any restriction. Freedom of speech does not give us the right to commit perjury or to say something that places others in danger of actual harm (the famous example of screaming "Fire!" in a crowded theater). Freedom of the press does not provide an excuse for libel. Freedom of religion does not allow parents to practice child sacrifice. Each of these limitations is based on a clear public interest. That historically has been the standard by which we evaluated restrictions on personal freedom. But today there is an increasing effort to restrict freedom, especially freedom of expression, on grounds that it is offensive or because we do not agree. If we continue to curtail freedoms because of personal preference rather than on clear public interest, then we will cease to be a free society.


Jeff Richard Young said...

Dear Brother Tim,

You've hit on a very good point.

Also, I appreciate you as a pastor taking the role of being your people's teacher on Christian citizenship.

Love in Christ,


Light Horse said...

Pastor Tim,

Outstanding post.


Kevin Stilley said...

Francis Schaeffer's writings man forfeiting freedom for security are very pertinent for our day. Blessings, and peace. Kevin.