"Congress shall make no law. . . abridging the freedom of speech . . ." (First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution)
Remember the playground taunt, "Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me"? Well, not so. Words matter, and sometimes they hurt so much that people have committed suicide, or psychologically have been scarred for life, especially in this day of social media.
It seems, however, in this age of hateful rhetoric that almost every week someone drags out the "free speech" card to defend a group or individual's right to say or do almost anything they want in public, no matter how despicable, degrading, deplorable or offensive that speech or action may be to others.
Last night, for example, I watched a respected panel on FOX News fall all over themselves defending the latest vulgarity by comedian Kathy Griffin, who in a recent photo shoot was depicted holding the bloody decapitated head of a figure representing President Donald Trump. As bad and disgusting as they each said it was, they also unanimously declared it was acceptable as free speech. But is there a limit? Should there be? Who defines it?
One of the most glaring examples a few years ago of what should be considered a limit was the case of the Westboro Baptist Church from Topeka, Kansas, which many considered to be nothing more than a small hate group masquerading as a Christian church. The church, which consisted basically of one family by the name of Phelps, was fond of showing up and picketing military funerals, citing their deaths as God's punishment for our nation's tolerance of homosexuals, and treating each death as some kind of godly quid pro quo. One picketing event even occurred in front of a United Methodist Church in Florida in a town called, ironically, Niceville.
In another example, who was not repulsed by the recent Black Lives Matter protesters chant in regard to the police of our nation, "Pigs in a blanket, fry 'em like bacon," which promoted the actual killing of police officers?
Now I believe many and perhaps most people find such actions sickening, and yet the U.S. Supreme Court, in an 8-1 decision, ruled "that the First Amendment," as Chief Justice John Roberts said in his majority opinion for the court, "protects even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate." Some debate.
I believe there is a higher authority and a higher standard for what we say. Christians call it God's Word, and the Bible has a lot to say about how we are to express ourselves.
"Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen" (Ephesians 4:29).
"Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving" (Ephesians 5:4).
"Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone" (Colossians 4:6).
"Set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity" (1Timothy 4:12).
"In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned"
"With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God's likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be" (James 3:9-10).
I realize that we may have difficulty changing the speech habits and actions of our culture in this day and age, but in our attempt to do so, let's make sure by our own example that our culture doesn't end up changing us. Remember, dear saints, God has given us the standard for our speech.
Please send me your comments. Maranatha!