The End of Religious Freedom
“Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth?”
Once upon a time in the West, there was freedom of speech. But in western countries now, so-called “hate speech” legislation has been implemented. And the elimination of freedom of speech in the once-Protestant western world, via the enactment of so-called “hate speech” legislation, is the single greatest threat to religious freedom for Christians: both the freedom to proclaim the Gospel, and the freedom to live it out in their daily lives. The very moment any piece of “hate speech” legislation is enacted, true freedom of speech ceases to exist. And the very moment freedom of speech ceases to exist, true freedom of religion ceases to exist as well. The two always go hand in hand. It is impossible for there to be true freedom of religion where there is no true freedom of speech. If one is not permitted by law to say or to write what one believes, or to propagate one’s beliefs by spoken or written words, there is then no religious freedom. A country’s statute books may still claim to guarantee religious freedom, but this is a lie if speech is restricted.
It was a wonderful blessing from God that Christians in Protestant countries were favoured for so long to live under governments which permitted, and protected, freedom of speech and freedom of religion. These nations prospered above all others on the face of the earth, for such freedoms are immensely beneficial to any country. They were invaluable to Christians and to Christian churches, ensuring that believers were able to preach and evangelise openly, and to live out their faith, without interference from the civil authorities.
But now these blessings have been, and are being, dismantled in one western country after another. “I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend your right to say it,” used to be the encapsulation of the essence of free speech. This is gone now! No longer do people have the right to fully express their beliefs or views. The authorities of the western world are legislating free speech off the statute books and out of existence. And Christians living in western countries find themselves in very similar circumstances to Christians in so many other parts of the world, down through the centuries since the Lord Jesus Christ first established His Church. The removal of true freedom of speech results in persecution for Christians.
The Government’s Duty
What is the God-given duty of any earthly government?
Romans 13 sets it out clearly. The duty of the government is to protect the physical lives and properties of the citizens; to defend good citizens and punish evil ones. To this end, the sovereign Lord has placed in the hands of each and every government “the power of the sword.” The sword is an instrument of death. The duty of a government is to punish criminals within society, even with capital punishment for certain crimes.
The government may not consist of good or decent men, let alone Christian men – in fact it hardly ever does. When Paul wrote Romans 13, the Roman Empire ruled his world! Regardless of who rules, however, the ruler has the power to protect the innocent and to punish evildoers – and should exercise this power. But only in matters relating to the physical lives and property of citizens. Nothing more.