Commentary: The human right to publicly express beliefs

In 2011 an earthquake rattled the nation’s capital. Rumors rose immediately that the tremor was caused by the Founding Fathers rolling over in their graves – their long sleep disturbed by events unfolding in the country they’d given their lives to establish. Seismic changes indeed and nowhere more evident than in the area of free speech and personal beliefs, particularly Christian ones.

Consider Congressional efforts to pass the First Amendment Defense Act. Aimed at protecting continuing, historic, Christian opposition to alternative sexuality and abortion, the legislation’s necessity shows how far we’ve fallen. Those first Americans saw freedom of speech as fundamental to democracy’s preservation. Etched in the Jefferson Memorial are the words of Thomas Jefferson who swore “upon the altar of god, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.” There is no greater tyranny to those lofty ideals than to forbid the public expression of faith.

Does the disturbing trend exist? Despite suggestions that Christian faith can be free if kept in the home and church, government agencies are already stretching into the sanctuary demanding compliance with politically correct directives. Consider an Iowa Civil Rights Commission guideline requiring churches to comply with gender confused bathroom polices, forbidding any vocal disagreement in their services. A Pennsylvania legislative subcommittee bill would require churches to hire homosexuals despite their moral objections. The effort ignores a recent, unanimous, U.S. Supreme Court ruling, (including the Obama appointees) that protects that very freedom. Clearly tyranny can’t be satisfied with its attempt to keep faith out of the public square. Are demands regarding beliefs in the home far behind?

Ignoring, or ignorant of, those founding rights of life and liberty, the focus on individual rights is quashing broader, more fundamental, human rights. Homosexual rights prevail over historic Christianity and common sense; those of women trump the unborn; illegal immigrant rights supersede taxpaying citizens born free. Victim’s rights replace those of the police tasked with enforcing the law. Voter rights are seen as more important than whether the voter is actually an American citizen with that right. It’s an intolerable situation pitting one group against another, often through media manufactured rage.

Admittedly, it’s difficult to uphold one group without adversely affecting others. Yet crushing the rights of one group to empower another is not an answer. We’re trampling the human right of public belief in saying a person can’t or shouldn’t openly express a currently unpopular point of view. Currently is the key word.

Our Constitution was ratified not with unanimous agreement on each detail, but rather because it was seen as the document that would do the largest good for the most people. Jefferson’s solution to the modern quandary over rights was to ask which “right” was best for the culture at large. In other words, the Constitution was designed to uphold the core, unchanging human values against the transient ones rising from time to time demanding special treatment. Though imperfect, the conclusions and periodic corrections to that document were arrived at by respecting and allowing the public expression, discussion and open debate of dissenting views.

One wonders why this human right is so feared in a country promising liberty. Could it be that liberal elites fear people who think for themselves? Hide the facts or the populace might arrive at a conclusion liberals can’t tolerate. The solution? Ignore the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and silence the dissenting views, especially the Christian one. “Coexist,” “Be who you are,” the slogans proclaim. Unless of course, you’re a person who’s examined the historic Christian faith and decided it can, and has been, good for society.

Free thought is at the core of human rights, but that liberty carries with it the privilege to share those conclusions in the public square without penalty or fear of reprisal. Denying that right kills liberty and is always tyranny’s first act.

William Shifflett is an Edinburg resident.