Imagine no religion. How about no free speech for those who embrace religious beliefs. Don’t let them practice religion in public, and don’t even let them mention it. Those who think it’s far-fetched in this country may be wrong.
Ours is a country of free speech, which means we get to express what we want unless it solicits direct harm or grossly violates community decency standards. That means we get to yell “fire” in a theater only if there is a fire, or if it’s clearly part of a theatrical performance. We don’t get to intentionally cause panic. We don’t get to advocate directly for another’s harm. We are limited in our freedom to expose unsuspecting viewers and listeners to obscenity.
With only a few exceptions, we get to express ourselves. An additional layer of protection is given to expressions of faith, which are expressly protected by the First Amendment. That means atheists — who have faith in a godless universe — are protected in denouncing God publicly, even to the most unsuspecting of listeners who may take offense. People of faith in God are free to speak of Jesus, Muhammad, Buddha — whatever figure they worship — in public to the most unsuspecting of listeners who may take offense.
In a country that holds free expression as perhaps its dearest value, imagine a judge forbidding a student from mentioning “global warming” during a public school graduation. A valedictorian had planned on telling fellow students to fight for the planet, by dedicating their lives to ending global warming, but she may not. The judge had been asked to make such a ruling by parents of a student who doesn’t believe in human-caused global warming and finds mere expressions of the belief as faith-based and offensive. The judge argued that hearing “global warming” would cause the plaintiff to “suffer irreparable harm.”
A similar outrage would involve a judge forbidding an atheist valedictorian from saying “there is no god,” or “religion kills.” In this country, the law protects the speaker and not the listener. If the word “Muhammad” causes some Christian a stroke, so be it. The speaker has greater rights.
The aforementioned hypothetical oppressions of speech seem unthinkable, until one hears what’s going on in Texas. Chief U.S. District Judge Fred Biery has ordered the Medina Valley Independent School District to forbid words at graduation that include “prayer,” “amen,” “benediction” and “invocation.” Those words, he ruled, would cause the plaintiff to “suffer irreparable harm.”
Biery banned select words of religion, meaning he is scouring from public the rights of individuals to express themselves. Why not ban the word “earth,” a term sacred to Pagan ritualists? He had best ban “Flying Spaghetti Monster.” It’s a creature invented to poke fun at Christians by those with faith that there is no god.
Free speech means a free market of controversial words and phrases. It means those who are offended by expressions, whether from a majority or minority, are supposed to suck it up for the sake of freedom. Nothing could be more un-American and dangerous than distorting this truth in the minds of our youth on graduation day.