Read Ruth 2 and Jeremiah 37.
This devotional is about Jeremiah 37:18: “Then Jeremiah said to King Zedekiah, ‘What crime have I committed against you or your attendants or this people, that you have put me in prison?’”
The United States of America has laws in place to protect freedom of speech but, as with every right, the law protects the freedom of speech that God, the creator, gave you and me. It does not grant us that right; our freedom and right to say whatever we want to say is God-given, not America-given or constitutionally-given. The law merely protects that right.
Israel did not have laws that protected freedom of speech but, like us, they had that freedom as a right granted to them by God. The only speech that was prohibited under God’s law was speech that was directly against the true God such as taking the Lord’s name in vain, blasphemy, and enticing someone to serve other gods. Beyond that category, people had the freedom to speak however and whatever they wanted to speak. There is no prohibition of one’s freedom where the law is silent.
Jeremiah’s question, here in Jeremiah 37:18 was, “What crime have I committed against you or your attendants or this people, that you have put me in prison?” The assumption behind his question was that speaking your mind is not a crime. It doesn’t matter if you are talking to another citizen of Judah or to the king of Judah, speech is not a crime and should not be prosecuted.
Certainly, Jeremiah experienced persecution because he was giving God’s message. However, he also was a political dissident because God’s message was about the coming loss of national sovereignty for Judah and, therefore, the loss of political power for the king (v. 17). The king’s men used a bogus charge of “deserting to the Babylonians” (vv. 13-14) as an excuse censor Jeremiah’s message, as well as to beat, and prosecute God’s prophet unjustly (v. 15). That is what an oppressive government does. If it can’t silence you through threats, intimidation, or directly applicable laws, it will accuse you of violating other laws to punish you instead.
Our world–and our country–is steadily infringing on our rights. College campuses are a current battleground for the infringement of free speech. There are many troubling stories out there. I won’t get into them, but you can see for yourself at https://www.thefire.org/newsdesk/. Note that this group is led by political liberals, yet they are concerned by the loss of free speech in higher education. College may be the battleground now but as college students graduate and enter the mainstream of society, their distorted notions about speech will change what is considered acceptable and prosecutable in the country at large.
Indeed, private corporations and technology companies are making more and more decisions that stifle dissent and freedom of speech. “Cancel culture”–the tendency to silence and try to harm economically someone whose opinions are unpopular–seems to be taking over here in America.
One might object by saying, “The first amendment applies only to the government, not to entities such as colleges or private companies like YouTube/Google, Facebook, Apple, etc.”
To counter that objection, I would first argue that colleges are part of the government because most of these schools rely on federal funds through grants and student loans.
Secondly, in the case of private companies like YouTube and others, we are told that it is morally wrong to discriminate against groups based on ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or religion. If it is morally wrong to discriminate against these groups, then it is also morally wrong to discriminate against political speech, because every group’s ideology has political implications and applications. If it is wrong to exclude women or feminists from these platforms, then it is wrong to discriminate against anyone who has any kind of point of view.
A lot more could be said about all of this but I’ll finish by saying this: If we lose freedom of speech–either by government persecution or by corporate/societal exclusion–then the loss of freedom of religion will follow quickly. That may be God’s will for us; it was for Jeremiah. As Christians, we must be committed to God’s word and willing to say what it says even if we are persecuted for it. But, it is also right and just for us to point out when God’s enemies are violating our God-given rights just as Jeremiah did here.
Keep this in mind whenever you hear someone say that some group, like illegal immigrants, don’t have rights. They do have rights because rights are not granted by the government; instead, they are supposed to be protected by the government. Or, more precisely, the law is supposed to protect everyone’s rights FROM the government or anyone else who would seek to use power to infringe on someone’s God-given rights.