Misstating the History of Free Speech

Referring to the suppression of speech by the major social media companies, syndicated talk show host Dennis Prager says, “This is the first time in American history that free speech is threatened seriously” (“Conservatives wary of Big Tech censorship,” Justthenews.com, Nov. 11, 2020). There is no doubt that we are seeing a serious wave of censorship, but it is not the first time in American history that free speech has been threatened. The free speech of Baptists, Quakers, and others was stifled in Massachusetts and some other colonies for 150 years. In 1635, Roger Williams had to flee into the wilderness in the dead of winter to escape persecution for saying things that were forbidden by the colonial government. In 1651, Obadiah Holmes was beaten with 30 stripes for saying forbidden things. Many Baptists were imprisoned. Because of the stifling of free speech, the first Baptist church in Massachusetts was shut down in 1680 and a second Baptist church was not formed until 1749. The censorship did not end until Massachusetts formed their state constitution in 1780. Baptists in Virginia also suffered censorship of free speech and the imprisonment of 30 Baptist preachers. The free speech of anyone supporting the political rights of blacks was viciously stifled in the Southern states during the Democrat-led Jim Crow era, which lasted 90 years. The free speech of Bible-believing Christians has been stifled in the American public school system for a very long time. Try teaching biblical creationism and the biblical view of man and woman and sexuality, for example, and see how long it takes for the government education censors to ban you.

(Friday Church News Notes, February 5, 2021, www.wayoflife.org, fbns@wayoflife.org, 866-295-4143)