The high cost of free speech
by Amy Henry
Posted on Friday, April 19, 2013, at 10:42 am
Last week, a normally wise son texted something not-so-wise to a group of girls with whom he’d been dialoging. It wasn’t anything “wrong,” just something foolish he had said in one of those moments of light-hearted silliness we tend to slip into when bantering back and forth in the cyberworld.
Two nights ago the same boy and I were invited to hear David French, senior counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, speak on the topic of free speech. We learned that unless our speech falls under the category of slander/libel, incitement, child porn, true threats, or obscenity, we are legally free to say anything we want to.
The connection between my son’s text and French’s speech was not missed by either of us. (Right, dear? Dear?) In fact, it prompted further exploration: Does the fact that something is legally permissible mean it is necessarily morally permissible? And, if something is morally permissible, does that necessarily mean it is wise to say it?
We are warned time and time again in Scripture about the tongue. Sins of the tongue range anywhere from lying to backbiting to gossip to, yes, garden-variety foolishness. The tongue is called a fire that can defile the whole body, “… a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” I have five sheets of paper filled with verses on the tongue. God obviously thinks highly of controlled speech, even when it’s free.
Since that evening spent listening to how important free speech is to our liberties, I’ve found myself convicted that my son isn’t the only one with tongue issues. It’s all too easy to slap a funny comment up on Facebook and press “enter” before thinking. When a great 140-character tweet forms in my head, how often do I hesitate, even for a moment, before shooting it off into the great unknown to be read by Lord knows how many people? And when texting, how easy is it to press “send” before considering the effect of my words? We all know how easy.
Text in haste, repent in leisure should perhaps become this generation of mothers’ oft-repeated admonishment to their children. Because, once out, words cannot be retracted. Loose lips not only sink ships, but also ruin friendships and wreck reputations. And, with social media and smartphones, it can happen faster than you can say, “But I was just kidding!”
Short of putting a muzzle over our mouths (although that is one option, I hear), it would behoove young and old alike to stop and think before we press “send,” and maybe to memorize Philippians 4:8 while we’re at it.
Because even when it’s free, speech can be costly.