With the killings in France, it has become popular for people in this country (The United States) to say “I am Charlie!” But that is an ignorant statement. Now, I understand that the people who are saying this mean well. They think they are supporting free speech, but they are not. They are actually supporting the destruction of civil society, they are just doing it in a different way. Now, don’t get me wrong: I am not defending the Muslims who murdered those people in France. All I am doing is asking you if you whether or not you understand the limits of free speech. If you think you do, then answer me this question: what would the founders of this nation have done to the person who made the “Piss Christ?” How about Larry Flynt, the founder of “Hustler Magazine:” what would our founders have done to him? If you think the founders would have defended either of these men, you need to read the rest of this post.
Now, I could try to make my case by citing various anti-blaspheme and morality laws from the time of our founding, or by quoting the many historic records of our founders’ debates over the issue of free speech. But this would make for tedious and boring reading and I would most likely lose you. So I will do it this way. Do you believe it is protected ‘free speech’ to shout “FIRE!” in a crowded auditorium? I hope not, because it is against the law. How about plotting to murder someone, or over throw the government: are those protected forms of free speech? Again, no! There are anti-conspiracy and anti-sedition laws against them. Yet, they are all forms of speech, are they not? So where are the limits of ‘free speech?’
According to the principles of Natural Law, I can shout fire in a theater — on my deserted island (For those who do not already know about it, I use the illustration of being on a deserted island to define Natural Rights. Whatever you can do on that island by yourself is a Natural Right). I can also plot the overthrow of a government or the murder of an individual. However, the moment other people arrive on the island, my right to say these things ends. Why?
The principle of Natural Law that is missed in all this is the requirement to do no injury to others. When I am on my deserted island, I can say anything because I cannot cause harm to another. But once other people are involved, I am obligated to restrict my speech. I still have the Natural Right to say all those same things — scream fire!, plot revolution and even murder — but not when other people can hear me. When other people can hear me, I run the risk of causing injury, and that is a violation of Natural Law. This is the principle of Natural Law — that of injury to others — that defines the limits of free speech. If my speech will harm another, I cannot say whatever it is I wanted to say.
However, in the case of satire against a religious figure, there are many people who will object to this limit on free speech. They will argue that, since no real injury is done to any individual, these sort of cartoons should be protected as free speech. Here again, the problem is that we no longer understand natural Law. There is a precedent side of the Social Contract. We all want to claim and enjoy the benefits provided by the Constitution — the protection of our rights and liberties — but how many of us even recognize that there is something that comes before the protection of those rights? Before you can claim protection of your rights, you must first pledge your support to protect others. This is the “Protect and Defend” part of the Constitution that too many of us want to pretend doesn’t exist, and it is one of the principle reasons our society is in such trouble. There are obligations placed on all Parties to any contract, and if any party ignores or neglects those obligations, they forfeit their rights to any benefit that contract may have afforded them. This means that, before we can declare speech to be protected, we have to look at its effect on the Social Contract. Here is where I am going to start quoting the founders:
“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indefensible supports.”
“The great pillars of all government and social life…[are] virtue, morality, and religion. This is the armor, my friend, and this alone, that renders us invincible.”
“One of the beautiful boasts of our municipal jurisprudence is that Christianity is part of the Common Law… There never has been a period in which the Common Law did not recognize Christianity as laying its foundations. I verily believe Christianity necessary to the support of civil society.”
–Joseph Story, U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Father of American Jurisprudence
“[T]he Declaration of Independence first organized the social compact on the foundation of the Redeemer’s mission upon earth… [and] laid the cornerstone of human government upon the first precepts of Christianity.”
–John Quincy Adams
“[T]he Christian religion — its general principles — must ever be regarded among us as the foundation of civil society.”
–Daniel Webster, the “Great defender” of the U.S. Constitution
“Before any man can be considered as a member of civil society, he must be considered as a subject of the Governor of the Universe.”
“The study and practice of law… does not dissolve the obligations of morality or of religion.”
“I have always considered Christianity as the strong ground of republicanism… it is only necessary for republicanism to ally itself to the Christian religion to overturn all the corrupt political and religious institutions in the world.”
“[T]he religion which has introduced civil liberty is the religion of Christ and his apostles… and to this we owe our free constitutions of government.”
“[N]ational prosperity can neither be attained nor preserved without the favor of Providence.”
–John Jay, first Supreme Court Chief Justice
I could go on, but if the founders have not made their point with you yet, it is unlikely they ever will. However, in case it is lost on anyone, what the founders were saying is that they not only did not intend for a secular government, they were clearly and forcefully saying that — without support for the Christian religion — neither good government nor civil society are possible. And where neither good government nor civil society exist, there can be no preservation of individual rights and liberty. This is why the founders had laws against blaspheme and immorality: because they considered them to be attacks on the very foundation of civil society and good government.
Let me ask you again: do you think the founders would have considered satire against Christianity to be protected ‘free speech?’ Or pornography, or any other speech which would serve to undermine the morality and virtue of society at large? So why are so many of us so quick to defend it today? No, Islam is not Christianity, but — if you need it — I can show you where Benjamin Rush said that, before he gave America over to infidels (atheists), he would rather see it controlled by Muslims. Yes, the founders believed religion is that necessary for civil society and good government (But note: the founders did not equate all religions. The clearly stated Christianity was the best, and only religion capable of supporting a free and self-governing people).