On March 23, 1775, Patrick Henry, farmer, lawyer, twice governor of Virginia, and supporter of the American Revolution, gave perhaps the most widely remembered speech of that era. When commenting on the sacrifices necessary to procure the freedom of the Commonwealth of Virginia and twelve other colonies from British rule, he said ” Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death.”
In a lesser known part of the same speech, Henry opined “For my own part, I consider it as nothing less than a question of freedom or slavery; and in proportion to the magnitude of the subject ought to be the freedom of the debate. It is only in this way that we can hope to arrive at truth, and fulfill the great responsibility which we hold to God and our country…..Should I keep back my opinions at such a time, through fear of giving offense, I should consider myself as guilty of treason towards my country, and of an act of disloyalty toward the Majesty of Heaven, which I revere above all earthly kings.
Patrick Henry considered it was his duty to God and to our fledgling nation to speak the truth, even if it offended others. After the revolution and the writing of the Constitution, Henry worked with James Madison on the Bill of Rights. His highest concern: the First Amendment. This amendment states in part “Congress shall make no law……abridging the freedom of speech…” He had been willing to risk his life in order to speak freely before and during the revolution, and wanted to reaffirm that freedom of speech would continue forever in the new United States of America.
Freedom of speech is necessary not only in political discourse, but also in the furtherance of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Those who govern most of the colleges and universities in our country seem to believe that speech disagreeing with their political beliefs must be silenced. They have “educated” many young people to seek “safe spaces” where they will not hear any opinions contrary to their own. As Christians, we may think that this is silly or unimportant because it has nothing to do with us. The exact opposite is true: it has everything to do with our freedom to speak freely about our relationship with Jesus Christ.
WE MUST OBEY GOD
How long will it be before any mention of Jesus or the contents of the Bible will be deemed offensive? It’s happening now! If our voices of dissent on issues like the murder of unborn children, homosexuality, and the redefinition of gender, family and marriage are considered offensive and therefore excluded from public discussion, will speech about our commitment to Jesus and the Bible also be soon silenced? Christian businesses are already being forced to close and their owners onerously fined just because they stand for a biblical definition of marriage. Our freedom of speech, and our freedom of religion are already abridged, and we must wake up to these truths.
Peter and John were ordered by the government of their day not to speak in the Name of Jesus. They refused to obey this instruction, which put them in peril of their lives. When confronted about their continued speech calling all to repentance and faith in Jesus, and facing sentence of death, their response was “We must obey God, not human authority! You killed Jesus by hanging him on a cross. But God, the God of our ancestors, raised Jesus up from the dead! Jesus is the One whom God raised to be on his right side, as Leader and Savior. Through him, all people could change their hearts and lives and have their sins forgiven. We saw all these things happen. The Holy Spirit, whom God has given to all who obey him, also proves these things are true.”
A devout believer in Jesus, Patrick Henry understood that freedom of speech was essential not only for the success of our nation, but also for the spread of the Gospel. The same First Amendment that establishes our freedom to speak also establishes freedom of religion. Congress can make no law that prohibits the free exercise of Christianity, yet legislatures, bureaucrats, and judges routinely do so. Judges and bureaucrats are not empowered by the Constitution to make law, yet they do on a regular basis, restricting the rights of Christians.
Some in our society are determined to silence the free speech of others. This is a fact and cannot be honestly disputed. We must not be deceived. The desire to control speech is not just about politics, but ultimately about eliminating the influence of Christianity in our country. Jesus believed in free speech, and spoke His convictions even when others deemed them offensive. True and lasting liberty can only come from Him, and most of the founders of our nation recognized this. As Jesus said “…if the Son makes you free, you will be truly free. ” (John 8:36)