Free Speech: A Private or Public Matter?

In terms of religious freedom, the Supreme Court is making headlines. Many people area already well aware of the case coming from Colorado to the Supreme Court that portrays the significant clash between a religious worldview and a secular worldview. However, this week, the court has agreed to hear a case from California that is brought forward by the same underlying principle: the conflict between secular and Christian worldview.
That case, Nifla (National Institute of Family and Life Advocates) v. Becerra, comes after NIFLA filed a lawsuit in four district courts in California after the passage of the Reproductive FACT (Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency) Act in October, 2015. This law set in motion requirements that all medical centers maintain notices that state the following:
“California has public programs that provide immediate free or low-cost access to comprehensive family planning services (including all FDA-approved methods of contraception), prenatal care, and abortion for eligible women. To determine whether you qualify, contact the county social services offices at ( insert the telephone number).”
The issue at hand here is that all medical service centers, regardless of conviction and position on the pro-life debate, must provide direction to and promote abortion as a contraceptive method.
In the four cases of NIFLA the lower courts all ruled that the state has a rightful ability to regulate what is considered professional speech. Furthermore, it was determined that the wording of the notice did not encourage abortions. These decisions were then upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals, as we would expect to be the case in California.
On Monday, the United States Supreme Court signaled that it would hear this case in the upcoming sessions. However, there were some specifications made to indicate that the case was not being heard on the basis of freedom of religion, but on the basis of freedom of speech. That distinction tells us much and causes some troublesome conclusions.
It will be interesting to see both how the arguments are laid and how the decisions are made because there are several key factors to be considered:
  1. First, the decision to pursue the case based upon freedom of speech over freedom of religion indicates a level of priority in which speech is deemed more important. While religious freedom is the first guarantee, it is often considered the least important in a secular society. Some could also take this to suggest that the two aspects are independent of one another.
  2. The second troublesome conclusion to be considered is the concept that the government has the ability to dictate what speech must be. This alone is contrary to the notion of free speech.
  3. Finally, the last point of discussion is the distinction between private and professional speech. The debate being had suggests that those concepts are independent of one another and should exist separately with one not overflowing into the other.
With those points in serious consideration, the outcome of the Supreme Court decision will be telling.
However, there is an element of this discussion in which priority points have been crossed. Reading the discussion points, the concept being played out is that personal convictions should not influence your professional responsibility. Somewhere a reversal has happened and it is now believed that your professional convictions should influence your personal ones and therefore, any personal convictions should have no influence not only in your professional life, but in your public life as a whole.
If the personal convictions are OK to have but should have no influence in the way one lives, then convictions become irrelevant. For Christians this thinking is crucial because Scripture does (or should) be the defining factor in how we view and participate in the world. If they are not to be lived out, then they have no meaning and significance and we aren’t living in Christlikeness. Furthermore, we aren’t living for the glory of God. Thus, the implications here are especially serious for Christians, but I would challenge all to consider the logic of having convictions if they are to be suppressed anyway.

Photo “On the Hill” courtesy of user Eric B. Walker and Flickr.