By Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer
Question: Why is free speech important?
Answer: Frederick Douglass said in 1860, that free speech was “the dread of tyrants … it is the one right they first strike down.” Only free speech can keep us from totalitarianism. Totalitarianism argues this way: We have to keep you safe, and so we need to take away your freedoms.
We have to insist that that price is too high; we cannot surrender free speech under the guise of “keeping us safe” or for “the good of the people.”
Q: After the riot and trashing of the Capitol on Jan. 6, we immediately saw that former President Trump was banned from various platforms, and others followed suit. How do you interpret this?
A: This issue is much larger than Donald Trump – so whether you voted for him or not, this is a matter that should concern us all. Free speech should not be a partisan issue.
We must understand Collective Demonization. This is the philosophy that says that once someone is banned by the elite (the ruling class) for what they have done or said, others must show solidarity and follow suit. Totalitarianism always acts in solidarity.
In the Soviet Union, once some prominent person was banished by the government, everyone had to join in and condemn this person; in other words, loyalty was proven by suppressing your personal opinion in order to join in the official party line. It was a case of virtue signaling. It showed that you agreed with the ruling elite so they would not come after you next. You had to signal your agreement to keep your job.
Individualism is denied, the collective becomes all that matters.
Q: What is the actual basis the radical left uses to decide who gets to speak and who does not?
A: That is based on a Marxist principle. Herbert Marcuse, a Marxist from the ’60s, taught that if we accept freedom of speech, the capitalists (the oppressors) will always use their privileges to win the argument against the oppressed. So, we need to ban them from speaking and give the oppressed freedom to speak; the oppressors should remain quiet. So you have expansive opportunities for free speech among LGBT activists, for example, but not for Christian conservatives who don’t go along with that agenda. The oppressed must speak; the oppressors must remain silent.
What is more, the argument is not simply “I disagree with you,” but “I disagree with you, so you are evil.”
Q: As a pastor of a church for many years, what are your concerns regarding freedom of speech issues?
A: Well, if the Equality Act is passed by Congress and signed into law, it would be applied to churches; preaching against same-sex marriage would be incriminating. If a person employed by the church were to announce that he or she plans to be married to a same-sex partner, and if the church were to terminate that employee, you could have a lawsuit.
Often, out of fear churches and pastors censor themselves.
Illustration: I know a church where the pastor preached that God created only two genders, and the next day the church was vilified on the news.
There is a danger that what the Bible teaches about issues of sexuality, gender and even pro-life issues can be classified as hate speech.
Q: What can we do to preserve freedom?
A: We can vote for people who are committed to our liberty. But that is not a guarantee. We have to just say what we believe and what we think and take the consequences. Freedom gives us the opportunity to spread our message, but throughout history the church has had to endure persecution and rejection. We do not need freedom of speech to survive; God will give us grace to speak and live out what we believe and suffer the consequences.
We aren’t used to that in America, but it appears as if that is where we are going.
Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer is Pastor Emeritus of The Moody Church where he served as the Senior Pastor for 36 years. He is author of many books including his latest, “We Will Not Be Silenced: Responding Courageously to Our Culture’s Assault on Christianity.”
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