Lessons Learned About Free Speech & Humility
“My experience taught me that no one will be convinced by our speech if it is disrespectful or condemning.”
By Brandon, Religious Freedom and Education Project Coordinator
Benjamin Franklin wrote in 1736, “Freedom of speech is a principal pillar of a free government; when this support is taken away, the constitution of a free society is dissolved, and tyranny is erected on its ruins.” Yet today, students across the nation often face heavy criticism as they attempt to practice their right to freedom of speech.
It seems like every day we read new stories about students being criticized and told by school administrators, teachers, and athletic departments that they cannot speak openly of their faith or the truth of sexuality. That environment makes it difficult to speak up when there is an enormous amount of pressure not to—and yet there’s so much at stake if we do not. As a Day of Dialogue participant (Charlie) wrote: “The truth will flow forth when we can freely and deeply speak about God’s law and His design for human nature.”
For me, growing up in a rural town meant the majority of my neighbors held some degree of conservative values. Still, a few of my teachers at the public high school were self-professing atheists or agnostic. In high school, I became adept at being the smart, arrogant teenager who refused to allow authority to dictate my beliefs. It was actually one of my atheist teachers who helped me recognize the error of my pride and instead realize that healthy, respectful dialogue was a far greater tool than unabashed arrogance. I entered into her classroom with the ultimatum in my mind to ensure she recognize the legitimacy of Christianity no matter the cost to myself. After being threatened with expulsion from her class and many heated discussions, I finally recognized my pride and the disrespect I had for this individual who deserved to be loved and respected as a child of God.
It was not until I humbled myself with the humility and love of Christ that the teacher and I were able to have effective, productive dialogue concerning our two traditions of belief. Although, as far as I know, she never accepted Christianity as a factual faith tradition, we were able to have honest, sincere discussions about her disbelief of God.
Since I have graduated from high school, former classmates have shared with me how much it impacted them to watch me stand for my faith and transform into someone who did so with humility and love.
That experience helped teach me an important life lesson: No one will be convinced by our speech if it is disrespectful or condemning. We never know who is being impacted for the Gospel by simply watching or listening to our conversations with others. Peter writes, “But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience…” (1 Peter 3:15-16). We have a responsibility to tell others the truth of the Gospel, but we must do so with the humility and love of the cross ever present in our minds.
We live in a country which allows us to have freedom of speech – a freedom slowly being whittled away – and as the future leaders of the nation, students have a duty to reach out to their peers with the hope and truth of the Gospel.
The statement by Benjamin Franklin in 1736 stands true today as much as it did in the era of the American Revolution. The freedom to have respectful dialogue between persons on a private and public scale is crucial to the survival of a free society. The fundamental right to freedom of speech not only supports a free society, but also gives an opportunity for the truth to be told.
As Christians, we must exercise the opportunity even when it comes to sensitive topics of sexuality. Most students today face far greater consequences than I faced six years ago when I was in in high school— and the topic of sexuality is a difficult one to navigate in the midst of an increasingly broken world. So while standing for truth will not always generate worldly applause, I am confident the trumpets resound in the Lord’s kingdom. I encourage the thousands of students participating in Day of Dialogue this year: As you stand for truth in your school or university, recognize the Lord is with you and He has promised His Word will not return void (Isaiah 55:11).