THE FOUR FREEDOMS---FREEDOM OF SPEECH

 

SCRIPTURE:  Acts 4:1-13, 16-21

 

In the name of the God who creates us, redeems us, and gives us life. Amen!

 

 

          Remember the comedian Yakov Smirnoff’s line “Is this country great or what?” Here are some current thoughts on our country:

·         Only in America…can pizza get to your door faster than an ambulance.

·         Only in America…do people order double cheeseburgers, large fries, and a diet coke.

·         Only in America…do we buy hot dogs in packages of ten and buns in packages of eight.

·         Only in America…do we find handicap parking in front of skating rinks.

·         Only in America…do drug stores have sick people walk to the back to pick up prescriptions while healthy people can buy cigarettes up front.

·         Only in America…do cars worth thousands of dollars sit in driveways so a garage can be filled with junk.

 

 

One of the things that make America great is our freedom. Today, and for the

rest of July, our sermon themes will be about President Franklin Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms.”

          In his annual address to Congress and the nation on January 6, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt clearly outlined the reasons for the United States’ inevitable involvement in the global struggle that gripped the world. His speech became known as the “Four Freedoms Speech.” The four freedoms were presented not just as a dream for our country, but for the whole world.

          While our country did not formally declare war for another twelve months, it became apparent to the vast majority of Americans that our involvement in the Second World War was both imminent and necessary.

          After hearing President Roosevelt’s address, Normal Rockwall, already the most renowned American illustrator, was inspired to create his version of the “The Freedoms”. His paintings appeared on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post magazine over the span of four weeks early in 1943.

          1.2 million people viewed the paintings in person as they traversed the nation in a traveling exhibition. Over $130 million was raised from these exhibitions to help fund the war effort.

          Today we consider the freedom of speech. Norman Rockwall’s portrait of this freedom shows a man standing to speak at a town meeting, political meeting, union meeting, or perhaps even a church meeting. The man’s demeanor is one of humble courage. He is not ranting as so many do today, but seems to be calmly speaking from the heart of his convictions.

          This is the core of the freedom of speech, the opportunity to express one’s views, even if they are not what others think or believe.

            When The Saturday Evening Post printed the pictures, it also included an essay with each picture. Booth Tarkington, a popular writer of the day, wrote the freedom of speech essay. His essay is an imagined chance meeting and conversation years earlier in 1912 by two travelers, a painter and a journalist.

          The painter says, “Put yourself in England, for instance, and put me and my dazzling ideas into that polyglot zoo, the United States of America. You in England can bellow attacks on the government till you wear out your larynx, and some people will agree with you and some won’t, and that is what would happen. In America I could do the same. Do you not agree?”

          “Certainly,” the journalist said. “In those countries the people create their own governments. They make them what they please, and so the people really are the governments. They let anybody stand up and say what he thinks. If they believe he’s said something sensible, they vote to do as he suggests.

          If they think he is foolish they vote no…Speech is an expression of thought and will. Therefore, freedom of speech means freedom of the people. If you prevent them from expressing their will in speech, you have them enchained, an absolute monarchy.

          In America or England, so long as the governments actually exist by means of freedom of speech, you and I could not even get started; and when we shall have become masters of our countries, we shall not be able to last a day unless we destroy freedom of speech.”

          Only at the end of the essay does the reader find out the names of the two travelers, Benito and Adolf.

          Freedom of speech means we have the right to voice our opinion and express our dissent from the majority. We have seen the total lack of the freedom of speech in Middle Eastern countries after their recent attempts at democratic elections.

          Patrick Henry in 1775 before the Virginia’s House of Burgesses, cried out, “Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God. I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death.”

          In the book of Exodus, God calls a halting, unsure Moses to speak a word of dissent to Pharaoh, “Let my people go.”

          In the play “1776” the drama of the final vote on the Declaration of Independence is presented with the tolling of a bell when each of the state representatives votes “Aye”. Every one of the fifty-six men knew that if they lost the rebellion, they would be hanged for treason. The voice of dissent was offered to the King of England, and the assent of freedom.

          Do you remember what the first Amendment to the Constitution states? “Congress shall make no law, abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.” It is a splendid freedom.

          However, the freedom of speech is not an end in itself.

            This is most pointedly captured in Paul’s letter to the Galatians, “For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love becomes slaves to one another. (Gal. 5:13). We are to use all our freedoms, including the freedom speech, for the common good.

          One of the things that irritates me to no end is when people talk over each other. One is speaking and trying to make a point and another person interrupts and begins to talk over the first. That is why I do not watch any of the supposed news programs and the talking heads. To interrupt a person and begin yelling is just plain rude. I do not believe we have the freedom to show such utter contempt for another person and their ideas. Our freedom needs to serve a higher purpose.

          Robert M. Hutchins, was the President of the University of Chicago, stated, “Freedom of speech is empty unless we have something to say.” Freedom requires responsibility and civility. What good is freedom of speech if we use it to lie and fill the air with bunk, or poisonous words of hate or gossip?

          Even the courts recognize there are limits to free speech, as expressed in the ninth commandment, “You shall not bear false witness.” We have laws pertaining to libel and slander that limit our freedom. The limits are the limits of truth and love.

          Too often, our sin is silence when we should speak. To paraphrase a famous anonymous quote that is often misattributed to Edmund Burke, “All it takes for evil to triumph is for good folks to be silent.”

          Martin Niemoller, a German pastor arrested by the Gestapo during the Third Reich shared these words much later, “In Germany they came for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I was not a communist. Then they came for the Jews and I didn’t speak up because I was not a Jew. They came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I was not a trade unionist. They came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant. Then, they came for me and by that time there was no one left to speak for me.”

          Who is it that needs your voice today? It is the average middle class citizen, the domestic worker, the immigrant, the child, or senior adult, the victim of unethical practices? Who do you know that is treated unjustly?

          Finally, we need to exercise our freedom and speak up about our faith in Christ. In the passage from Acts today, Peter and John are preaching and about five thousand come to faith in Christ.

          The authorities arrest them and then observe, “These are uneducated and ordinary men.” So Peter and John are ordered by the authorities to be quiet about Jesus, and are threatened with prison or worse.

          Peter and John respond, “Whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen or heard.” What strikes me here is that Peter and John are described as ordinary; in another translation it says “everyday” people. They are just using their freedom of speech not to expound profound, complex, theology but to tell others of their experience of Christ.

          You and I are everyday people. We can use our freedom of speech and help those around us as we tell of our experiences of Christ as we read the Bible, pray, serve someone in need, or participate in worship.

          A little four-year-old girl came to her pastor every Sunday as she made her way from Sunday School to worship. The pastor would ask, “Laurel, what did you learn in Sunday School today?” Laurel would answer, “Jesus loves me and I am to love others.”

          One day Laurel’s mother asked, “You always say that. Don’t you learn anything else?” The pastor responded, “That is the core of our faith. I just wish we adults could learn it, and tell others.

          Just then Laurel walked over to a newcomer who was entering the church and said, “Jesus loves you.” The newcomer smiled and with glassy eyes said, “Thank you young lady that means so much to me.”

          You and I have the freedom of speech. It is a splendid gift of our faith and our country. Use it for the good of others. Use it to proclaim your faith in Jesus Christ.

 

MAY THESE THOUGHTS GIVE YOU STRENGTH