Will the Supreme Court uphold freedom of speech?
Today’s arguments before the high court will make that question clear
“Liberty is meaningless where the right to utter one’s thoughts and opinions has ceased to exist. That, of all rights, is the dread of tyrants. It is the right which they first of all strike down,” said Frederick Douglass in 1860, a half decade before the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified, ending slavery in the United States.
What dominates today’s news cycle—mid-term elections, recession, the specter of nuclear war—is important. We do live our lives “in the now.” But the great abolitionist uttering those words at that moment in history speaks to the ages about the transcendent blessing of liberty we have in free speech and our duty defend it.
Especially now, in the post-truth era.
So many deeply fundamental truths about this country—truths we’ve cherished, truths many of us have taken for granted, truths we’ve all agreed on until just moments ago—are suddenly not only being interrogated but banished beyond the pale. And it’s not just anonymous Twitter cancel mobs attacking the foundations of our society. The most powerful figures and institutions have joined in.
The president of the United States now says that half or more of our country’s citizens—who believe in the sanctity of life and marriage, the rights of parents, the realities of biology, and the Constitution’s guarantees of free speech and religious liberty—are “a threat to democracy.”
We are on a collision course with those who have abandoned their oath to “support and defend” our cherished rights and liberties. We are walking into a fierce headwind.
So many places in the world are already tragically ahead of us on this. Faith is a matter of life and death in countries like India and Nigeria. Christians there risk their lives every day for the right to live out the loving, peaceful gospel of Jesus Christ. In growing portions of Europe and Latin America, just quoting Scripture can result in serious civil penalties, even imprisonment.
Thankfully, we’re not quite there yet in the United States. And many Christians here want to believe this gathering storm will pass us by. But it won’t.
After working for many years leading the litigation efforts of Alliance Defending Freedom—the world’s largest legal organization advocating for free speech, religious liberty, and other fundamental freedoms—I am now blessed to be its CEO and president and continue to be its general counsel. Every day, our attorneys represent Christians who face losing everything because they hold views about marriage that most humans for most of history held until a few short years ago.
We’re seeing government trying to shut down Christian children’s homes, adoption centers, and homeless ministries just because they won’t hire people who oppose Christianity.
We’re defending parents, health care providers, and some of the most successful, diverse, charitable schools in the country because they believe that a person’s biology—not subjective feelings—determines his or her sex, and that we must also protect all human life at conception.
Now, merely for defending ideals that throughout our history have been respected as common sense, social orthodoxy, and scientific fact, we have become the object of cultural scorn, social contempt, and legal and financial assault.
None of that comes as a great surprise in a nation that increasingly forsakes its roots and reviles its institutions. In such an atmosphere, people of faith—no matter how gracious their manner—will always be perceived as a threat. We are, after all, a constant reminder to those in power that they, too, are subject to a higher authority.
The inevitable instinct of oppressors is to silence those who call out their wrongs, which is why, as Douglass understood, the price of freedom is always high.
More than a value, free speech and free exercise of religion are pre-political rights. They are an inheritance “endowed by our Creator.” Preserving that inheritance is our first duty as citizens and our great privilege as those who bear the Imago Dei. It is, in the truest sense, loving our neighbor to stand fast in their defense, as the loss of these freedoms carry a real human cost.
It’s also what makes the defense of our client Lorie Smith in the 303 Creative v. Elenis case, which will be argued before the U.S. Supreme Court today, so important. Lorie represents the growing number of artists across this country being told by their government what messages they can and must communicate, regardless of their personal beliefs.
Lorie seeks to restore our government to its proper role as protector of every citizen’s basic rights. She is resisting unjust laws that empower the state to target citizens with censorship, coercion, and cancellation. Any such resistance is bound to meet with a storm of protest from the government it challenges.
It’s time for all freedom-loving Americans to join heroes like Lorie and make a deliberate choice to walk into that wind—to confront oppression and defend our rightful inheritance, not just for ourselves but for every American of every generation.
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