The liberty principle for this Freedom Friday concerns the need for us to know our religious rights, freedoms that are protected by the laws of the land. Freedom of religion is under attack more than it has been for many years, and many Americans are afraid to even speak of religion in public settings. It is imperative that all Americans know and understand our rights of religion in order for us to be prepared to defend them.
I shared some information the past two weeks from an article posted by Maurine Proctor. Her article is titled “You Should Know the Answers to these 35 Questions about Religious Freedom.” She takes her 35 questions from a booklet compiled by the International Center for Law and Religion Studies of the Brigham Young University Law School. She quotes their goal as follows: “Our aim is to help everyone understand the scope of religious freedom guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, and to offer suggestions on how to peacefully reconcile the rights of all.”
I shared the answers to questions 1-21 in previous weeks. This week I will share some questions and answers about religious speech and expression. As you might expect, there are many questions in this area.
Question #22 asks, “What laws protect religious speech?” The short answer is that the First Amendment to the US Constitution protects religious speech. A longer answer is as follows.
The First Amendment provides extremely broad protection for freedom of speech of all kinds, including religious speech. The government cannot forbid speech because of its content, religious or otherwise, even if it is extremely offensive to others. This is subject only to very narrow exceptions, such as speech that poses a clear and present danger by inciting imminent violence. This strong protection of speech safeguards the free public exchange of ideas that is essential in a democracy.
Question #23 asks if “freedom of speech include[s] more than speaking.” The answer is YES. As we have learned through a recent decision by the US Supreme Court, freedom of speech includes making wedding cakes. Here is a more complete answer.
Freedom of speech, religious or otherwise includes not only speech, but other forms of expression such as displaying, publishing and distributing signs, banners, pamphlets, books, magazines, websites, or other materials. The government may regulate some aspects of these activities, such as solicitation of donations or commercial agreements between religious groups and publishers or distributors, but it may not control the content.
Question #24 asks if privately owned entities, such as “newspapers, magazines, television stations, and other media outlets [may] publish religious (or anti-religious) speech.” The answer is YES.
The First Amendment guarantees the right to freedom of the press. With very limited exceptions, people and groups have the right to publish any views in any media available to them. These views may be religious, non-religious, or even anti-religious. For example, laws against blasphemy would be unconstitutional. However, the government does not have to provide the means for publishing these messages.
Question #25 asks if “a privately owned media outlet such as a newspaper, magazine, or television station [may] refuse to publish religious speech.” The answer is YES. “Private media outlets have the right to decide whether to publish or broadcast any materials. Individuals or groups may not demand that a private media outlet publish or broadcast their speech, religious or otherwise.”
As we can see from the answers above, our freedom of speech is well protected by the First Amendment and can take place in several different ways. We are free to say anything that we desire, even if what we say is highly offensive to other people. However, we cannot ask the government or anyone else to force someone else to broadcast our words.
Maybe there would be fewer so-called “snowflakes” on college campuses that need “safe places” if they understood the full ramification of freedom of speech. Invited speakers should be allowed to express their thoughts and feelings without fear. Anyone who does not wish to hear them is free to stay away, but they do not have the right to prohibit speech of any kind.