Freedom of Speech is a fundamental right in many modern Western nations. Yet it seems like, in recent days, it has been under increasing attack. How are we to think about these things as Christians? This podcast episode considers some important points about freedom of speech and censorship from a Christian worldview.
You can listen to the episode here.
Please find below my show notes for this podcast episode.
Government Speech Codes
US government seeking to implement a Disinformation Governance Board which they say will be for combating disinformation from cartels and extremist groups. Who defines what’s an extremist group?
They also claim that the Disinformation Governance Board will be an impartial and neutral benevolent governing body looking out for the best for Americans. Jen Psaki told reporters that the Disinformation Governance Board “is not to adjudicate what is true or false online or otherwise” adding, “it will operate in a nonpartisan and apolitical manner.” This reminds me of the Ministry of Truth akin to what was described in Orwell’s dystopian novel - 1984.
There is no neutrality. We need to stop buying the lie that politicians on both the right and left are selling us. If you think letting the government decide what is true and what facts are acceptable, you’re in for a bad time.
The person chosen to lead this Disinformation Governance Board, Nina Jankowicz, has contended that the Hunter Biden laptop scandal was “Russian disinformation” and has previously openly expressed support for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election and made several public statements against Donald Trump. So much for being apolitical.
Bill C-11 and Internet Regulation
Similarly, in Canada, the Liberal government is seeking to control narratives and “truth” through its own legislative governing body. Bill C-11 seeks to give the Canadian government power to regulate the internet, social media content producers, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, etc - as if they were a traditional broadcaster. We know how that’s gone with the CBC, CTV, and other Canadian mainstream news media that have now become propaganda outlets for the Liberal government. For example, the CBC received over $1.2 billion in tax-payer dollars for funding just in 2019-2020 and the Liberal government has recently given a further $61 million in subsidies to undisclosed media companies this year. You can't expect unbiased news - they aren't going to bite the hand that feeds them.
An article from ARPA Canada explains it this way: "Bill C-11 seeks to give the government power over the internet. The CRTC, with this new bill, would be given an immense regulatory scope with almost no limitation. The government is seeking to move oversight of the internet under the CRTC in the same way it currently regulates cable, television, and radio."
MP Aboultaif said in a speech in the House of Commons, “This flawed legislation, Bill C-11 does nothing to provide Canadian listeners with the best programs. If anything, it discourages creative programming… We all know that the Internet bears no relation to traditional broadcasting…The Internet is narrowcasting not broadcasting, as content creators can reach smaller segments of the population, which have not been served by traditional broadcasters.“
Bill C-11 adds the following wording to the Broadcasting Act about serving the needs "of diverse…sexual orientations, gender identities and expressions… and reflect their circumstances and aspirations, including equal rights.” (Subparagraph 3(1)(d)(iii))
Canadian hate speech laws are another way of suppressing information or opinions that the ruling party does not like. How long before biblical truth on abortion, taxation, education, and sexuality are considered “unacceptable views” and “hate speech”? Well, we don’t have to wonder about some of those. Bill C-4 came into effect this year which has the potential to criminalize, with attending jail time and hefty fines, almost any speech that challenges the LBGTQ+ narrative and agenda.
"For a modern state to remain entirely impartial is, we submit, an impossible feat. The idea of a purely neutral state in which there is no official endorsement of the true and good, of a political community that eschews the notion that it acts on the basis of substantive values, is a mirage...the established position will inevitably exclude the worldviews of some citizens." (Rex Ahdar and Ian Leigh in a 2004 article for the McGill Law Journal entitled, "Is Establishment Consistent with Religious Freedom?")
These laws simply illustrate that there is no neutrality in politics. Jesus made it clear, that you’re either for him or against him. There is not one square inch of ideological neutral space. Either it is in service to Christ or rebellion against him.
In all of these questions about what should and should not be allowed in public dialogue, we must ask the question - “By What Standard?”
A Christian Conception of Free Speech
There is also a wrong way to think about freedom of speech as totally unrestrained and without any limits at all. The classic example is yelling “fire” in a crowded room which sparks panic and a “stampede” where people may be injured or die. True freedom isn’t the license to do anything we want without any regard for God’s law or any restraints.
There is a difference between license and liberty. License is antinomian and rebellious. Liberty is about being free to do what we ought.
Paul said it this way in Ephesians 4:29 - "Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths but only that which is good for building up, gives grace to your hearers and fits the occasion."
This is why it is the Christian’s duty to continue to faithfully tell the truth. This is what we ought to do. We are not just supposed to not lie (commandment #9), but we’re also to tell the truth.
“It’s amazing how much panic one honest man can spread among a multitude of hypocrites. ” (Thomas Sowell)
Rod Dreher’s book Live Not By Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents is a great read on the topic of how powerful truth-telling can be in the fight against totalitarianism
Leftists, Secularists, and Statists hate God’s law and don’t want to see it applied in the public sphere.
"Leftism does not like religion for a variety of causes. Its ideologies, its omnipotent, all-permeating state wants undivided allegiance. With religion, at least one other allegiance (to God), if not also allegiance to a Church, is interposed. In dealing with organized religion, leftism knows of two widely divergent procedures. One is a form of separation of Church and State which eliminates religion from the marketplace and tries to atrophy it by not permitting it to exist anywhere outside the sacred precincts. The other is the transformation of the Church into a fully state-controlled establishment. Under these circumstances, the Church is asphyxiated, not starved to death. The Nazis and the Soviets used the former method; Czechoslovakia still employs the latter." (Erik con Kuehnelt-Leddihn, Leftism (1974), p. 40-41)
Ultimately though, free speech is the fruit of having God’s righteous standards enacted in society. It was out of a decidedly Christian atmosphere that the traditions of freedom of speech in Western societies were born and flourished. Now as we knock out those foundations, the structures are collapsing. As Psalm 11:3 says, “If the foundations be destroyed, What can the righteous do?”
Freedom as the Fruit of God's Righteous Standards
But we must not mistake free speech (which is the fruit) with the standard itself. If we make free speech the standard, then that would lead to a form of anarchy and chaos as the depraved hearts of men find voice through speech unrestrained. We would have no redress of certain forms of expression which are harmful (e.g. crying fire in a crowded room), and of content that should not be publicly distributed (such as pornography on public forums like Twitter or Facebook). If we make free speech the absolute standard, it would make it into an idol that would lead to degeneracy.
No, instead, free speech must be kept as the fruit of God’s standards applied to society. Without the pervasive influence of the gospel in society, freedom will collapse into form only, or form will deteriorate into anarchy only and you will have the free speech equivalent of a failed state.
In the end, secular proponents of free speech are living on borrowed Christian capital. The remainders of our Christian heritage still hold some cultural sway as we have moved from being Post-Christian to Anti-Christian. Even now, some secularists are against free speech altogether, being convinced of Marxist Statism, they see it as a threat to building their utopia.
A Brief Biblical Basis for Freedom & Regulation of Speech
What then is the Biblical basis for freedom and regulation of speech? This would be deserving of a more in-depth study than we can at this point, but briefly - we can consider the 10 commandments as a good starting point. The first commandment about speech specifically is #3: You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain. It is God-focused and that is where our referent point for any regulation and freedom should be oriented. Commandment 9: You shall not bear false witness - is the second concerning speech and deals with our commitment to truthfulness. Thus, at a bare minimum from the Decalogue, speech which is blasphemous and untruthful should have no place in our mouths.
We’re well-acquainted with modern laws against giving false testimony - especially in legal proceedings, however, blasphemy laws seem antiquated and extreme to many modern ears. Yet they still exist. This is why cancel culture exists… when you blaspheme the new “gods” of our society, it can come with severe sanctions and penalties. There will always be blasphemy laws because every society will have its god, and if it is not the God of the Bible, it will be a tyrannical idol that suppresses speech far worse than Biblical law would.
This is the irony of men running from God’s law thinking it oppressive but ending up enslaving themselves to true oppression. That’s the lie of sin. We could also go on talking about conscience rights from Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8 & 9, but for now, we’ll leave it to pick up at another time.
The only way for us to preserve “freedom of speech” is to uphold the biblical norms for society and life. We need an objective standard by which to govern and pass laws. If it is not God’s standard, it will be man’s imperfect, subjective, and often immoral standards.
Those who say, “you can’t legislate morality” are living in a dream world. You can only legislate morality! It's just a matter of whose morality? God’s or man’s?
"That fact is that all law is "religious." All law is based on some ultimate standard of morality and ethics. Every system is founded on the ultimate value of that system, and that ultimate value is the god of that system. The source of law for society is the god of that society. This means that a theocracy is inescapable. All societies are theocracies. The difference is that a society that is not explicitly Christian is a theocracy of a false god." (R.J. Rushdoony)
Christians seeking some sort of neutral ground apart from a person's ultimate commitments and presuppositions for politics, government, and law are not realizing that there is none. Modern Christians keep retreating from various spheres and topics once they’re framed as “political” because we’re told to keep religion out of politics. Thus, the issues that the church and God’s word can speak to grow ever increasingly smaller and lesser as the ground is lost inch by inch. All of this in the name of supposed “neutrality” we’re told by secularists. Yet, the secularists bring their fundamental beliefs into every conversation. If we keep giving up ground, we’ll find there’s nowhere to stand.
What we’ll end up finding is what Scripture has always told us - that life apart from his law leads to slavery. Only God’s law is the perfect law of liberty! (James 1:25)
"What most modern Western people (including many Christians) are asking for in the name of freedom is in fact a new slavery, when they attempt to secularize the public sphere and pursue freedom without the Lordship of Christ. To object to this by saying that non-believers are not accountable to God's covenant law (moral law) is finally to say that we have no basis for presenting the gospel to the unbeliever - since Scripture defines sin as lawlessness and only lawbreakers need the gospel!" (Dr. Joe Boot, Mission of God, p. 280-281)
A State that seeks to coerce or restrict speech by its own autonomous standards is acting in the place of God idolatrously. Many of the coercive measures today of State overreach is exactly because the State is acting in a way that assumes it has power over all of life.
"If God's law is not the overruling government over all things, then some kind of super-state must provide it. As a result, a world of statist law-making bodies soon seeks to create a fiat world law, a world court, and a world state. If there be no God with a governing law over all things. then a man-made world order must replace Him. Thus the alternative to God and his law is inevitably a humanistic law and world order." (R.J. Rushdoony)
Only Jesus Christ has been given all authority in heaven and on earth (Matt. 28:19-20), thus, only he can command such total allegiance in every sphere of life. And indeed he does.
It’s time that Christians regain their footings in God’s law and how it should be applied to the issues of our day and develop a robust public theology that takes seriously the relevance of God’s Word to every area of life and stop relegating areas to the secularists of our day to define. Why are we surprised that if Jesus called us salt and light, that in every area that Christians retreat from decays and goes dark? We must recover our preserving and illuminating influence upon society for the love of neighbor and glory of God.