What exactly is freedom of speech and why is it important?
We explore and answer these questions in a video that Alliance Defending Freedom recently created for church leaders.
As ADF Senior Counsel Ryan Tucker explains, the freedom of speech is the ability to say, write, or otherwise express what you truly believe without fear of punishment or retaliation from the government. Importantly, this includes the freedom not to speak. That means you can’t be forced to say or express messages with which you disagree.
Free speech is a right given to us by God, not the government. But the U.S. government was established to help secure and protect that right. This, in turn, has helped the United States become one of the most vibrant, prosperous, and free nations in history. Ultimately, embracing free speech helps uphold democracy, limits the government's power, and encourages the pursuit of truth.
Freedom of speech is important for everyone, but it’s especially critical for church leaders who have committed their lives to serving their congregations and their communities. Their service naturally involves proclaiming the Gospel and teaching others about the Christian faith. So, being able to speak freely—not only in a church, but also in the public square—is integral to the ministry God has called them to.
But some wish to stifle this right, for pastors and those in their congregations. The video highlights the stories of clients ADF has represented, all of whom have experienced the loss of their rights at the hands of the government. The threat is real and should be taken seriously.
When free speech protections are upheld, they ensure that each of us can speak about and live out our faith in the public square, free from harassment or punishment from the government.
The video also points out that the right to freedom of speech isn’t a blank check. In their personal capacity, church leaders have the right to speak freely about the issues of the day. But in their professional capacity, church leaders are potentially limited in some areas of speech—such as when they start talking specifically about legislation, political parties, or about candidates.
These potential limits arise from the Johnson Amendment, a law that we at ADF believe needs to be reformed or repealed because it can have a chilling effect on free speech.
We should all care about preserving the right to freedom of speech. The censoring of ideas, silencing of certain viewpoints, or the rise of “canceling” someone with an unpopular opinion harms not only the spread of the Gospel but also the ability of some to live out their faith. When we encourage open dialogue rather than stifling it, the truth can be heard and ultimately prevail, which in turn helps create a flourishing society.
Learn more about freedom of speech and how it relates to the Church.