As a ghostwriter and writing coach, I’m passionate about freedom of speech. My mission and purpose in life is to get truth out into the world by empowering people to write books either by writing for them or teaching them how to write books through my courses.
Thinking about this today I was reading an article at Vox that wrestled with the concept of freedom of speech. The interviewer was talking with Brian Leiter from the University of Chicago about his work, The Case Against Free Speech. From what I can understand, Leiter values it, but worries about it and wants to see it limited. The problem for Leiter and his interview at Vox was that our current capitalist system is so unfair and messed up that there is no safe way to regulate it…yet.
I am truly opposed to regulating speech. Read the interview, but my take is that they misunderstand capitalism. I see capitalism as the only logical and fair way for two people to trade value for value. There are corrupt forms of capitalism, such as crony capitalism, and capitalism meddled with and corrupted by the government, but true capitalism is a powerful way of relating in a win-win trading relationship.
Thomas Jefferson and the Alien and Sedition Acts
But my article isn’t about capitalism; it’s about free speech. I don’t think we have autonomy without it, and autonomy is fundamental to humanity. Today I’d like to briefly consider a Founder, Thomas Jefferson and his opposition to the Alien and Sedition Acts, specifically to their threat to free speech and autonomy.
The Alien and Sedition Acts were a series of laws enacted by the United States Congress in 1798 during the presidency of John Adams. These acts aimed to control and restrict foreign-born residents and suppress dissenting voices critical of the government. However, the passage of these laws faced significant opposition, notably from Thomas Jefferson, who vehemently opposed their unconstitutionality and the potential threat to individual liberties.
Background of the Alien and Sedition Acts
The Alien and Sedition Acts consisted of four separate laws: the Naturalization Act, the Alien Friends Act, the Alien Enemies Act, and the Sedition Act. The Naturalization Act increased the residency requirement for immigrants to become U.S. citizens from five to fourteen years. The Alien Friends Act authorized the deportation of non-citizen residents deemed “dangerous to the peace and safety of the United States.” The Alien Enemies Act permitted the detention and expulsion of citizens of countries at war with the United States. The Sedition Act criminalized the publication of “false, scandalous, and malicious writing” against the government.
Thomas Jefferson, a prominent Democratic-Republican leader and the Vice President at the time, strongly opposed the Alien and Sedition Acts. He viewed them as an abuse of federal power and an infringement upon the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution. Jefferson argued that the acts violated the principles of free speech, freedom of the press, and the rights of immigrants.
Unconstitutionality and Federal Overreach
Jefferson believed that the Sedition Act, in particular, violated the First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and freedom of the press. He saw it as a tool to stifle political dissent and silence criticism of the government, thereby undermining the democratic principles upon which the nation was founded. Jefferson emphasized the importance of robust public debate and the right of citizens to express their opinions without fear of prosecution.
The main problem is that we are meant to be a society of free individuals. This is the brilliance of the American experiment and I think fundamental to being creative image-bearers of God. We are not human if we cannot judge and then speak and act freely.
The Bible on Free Speech
The Bible does contain principles and passages that touch upon the concept of freedom of speech, although the specific phrase “freedom of speech” is not explicitly mentioned. Here are some biblical points that relate to the topic:
Free Expression of Beliefs
The Bible upholds the value of expressing one’s beliefs and ideas. In 1 Peter 3:15, believers are encouraged to “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” First, it’s implied that you will have beliefs. You must be allowed to share them. We need to know what your beliefs are, because we need to consider them for ourselves as we seek the truth. You should be allowed to state and defend your beliefs.
Honesty and Truthfulness
The Bible emphasizes the importance of truthfulness and honest communication. Ephesians 4:25 states, “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body.” It’s a fundamental axiom that lying is wrong. Though free speech includes the freedom to say something that turns out to be untrue, if one knows he is deceiving in his speech, there should be consequences. Fraud is a violation of another person and violating others is not protected.
Responsibility and Accountability
While the Bible promotes freedom of expression, it also emphasizes the responsibility and accountability that come with it. In Matthew 12:36-37, Jesus teaches that individuals will be held accountable for their words, saying, “But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”
This is powerful. Taking responsibility for what you say is highly commendable. If there is anything I don’t like about being a ghostwriter is that I get to say things in print without having to take responsibility for saying it. I always offer my ghostwriting clients to “credit” me, so I don’t get away with that so easily.
Speech that Builds Others Up
The Bible encourages believers to use their speech to edify and encourage others. Ephesians 4:29 states, “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.” This suggests that speech should be used for positive purposes and to uplift others. While we have the freedom to use our words to destroy and tear down, it behaves a Christian to remember the power of words and to use them for building up more than tearing down, although sometimes things need to be torn down.
The Bible teaches the importance of respectful and gracious communication. Colossians 4:6 advises, “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” Believers should communicate with grace and wisdom, considering the impact of their words on others. God calls us to love our neighbors. This does not mean never to speak a truth that your neighbor will not like or will not want to hear, but to do it lovingly and graciously. Jesus never failed to say what needed to be said, but he was love incarnate as he said it.
In the interest of speaking the truth, I had some help from ChatGPT as I wrote this. I am enjoying this tool tremendously as a writing assistant. Can you tell where I used it? Feel free to comment and let me know how you liked it along with any other comments you may have about speaking the truth and freedom of speech.