Posts Tagged Holmes

Freedom of Speech Is Not the Absence of Responsibility – Mitch Randall

 Søren Kierkegaard once quipped, “People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use.”

The Danish philosopher and theologian provides us with an accurate backdrop for the terrifying events that unfolded on January 6 in Washington D.C.

Insurrectionists, inspired by former President Donald J. Trump’s false claims of a stolen, fraudulent election and his fiery speech on Jan. 6, broke into the U.S. Capitol, killing police officer Brian Sicknick.

Before the former president’s term ended, the U.S. House of Representatives impeached the president for a second time, stating, “Donald John Trump engaged in high Crimes and Misdemeanors by inciting violence against the Government of the United States.”

This week, at the former president’s second impeachment trial, the term “freedom of speech” is being cited frequently by his lawyers and supporters as they argue for his acquittal by the U.S. Senate.

Trump’s lawyers and supporters argue that the former president cannot be held accountable for his speech because it is constitutionally protected under the First Amendment.

While freedom of speech is a sacred right for all U.S. citizens, Trump’s argument fails at the point of honest assessment and application.

Without getting lost in the woods of legal jargon, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled numerous times that freedom of speech can be limited for several reasons:

  • Inciting actions that would harm others (Schenck v. United States, 249 U.S. 47, 1919).
  • Making or distributing obscene materials (Roth v. United States, 354 U.S. 476, 1957).
  • Burning draft cards as an anti-war protest (United States v. O’Brien, 391 U.S. 367, 1968).

The court recognizes that words are extremely important in a free society. Words define. Words inspire. Words incite.

While freedom of speech is a sacred right, it is not absolute. As former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt pointed out, “Freedom makes a huge requirement of every human being. With freedom comes responsibility.”

Freedom is not the absence of responsibility. On the contrary, freedom relies on both personal and social responsibility.

As individuals, we have the responsibility to utilize speech for the common good. As a just society, we have the responsibility to protect the rights of all citizens, especially when the tension of rights is present.

Over his 29 years on the bench, Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes (1841-1935) wrote extensively on freedom of speech.

Holmes engineered the “Clear and Present Danger” test to guide his opinions regarding freedom of speech. He wrote in Schenck v United States (1919), “Whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent.”

Holmes’ “Clear and Present Danger” test was replaced in the 1950s by the “Preferred Position Doctrine.” This doctrine acknowledged a hierarchy of constitutional rights, noting that some freedoms garner preference over others.

Interpreting constitutional rights and freedoms through this lens ushered in a new understanding of individual liberties and civil rights.

For example, can a citizen use speech to discriminate against another citizen? Can a shopkeeper cite freedom of speech as a defense for hanging a “Whites Only” sign on their front door?

As one can witness, constitutional freedoms are not always absolute. There are instances when a “preferred position” of rights must intervene, establishing one right over another.

Therefore, as Trump’s lawyers and supporters argue that the former president’s speech is constitutionally protected, an important question begs to be asked: “Why is the former president’s right to free speech more important than Officer Brian Sicknick’s right to live?”

It’s not.

While freedom of speech is an essential component to a thriving democracy, when a citizen uses speech to incite violence against another citizen, then the latter’s right to live outweighs the former’s right to speak.

More so, citizens must begin to realize that freedom of speech does not divorce a person from responsibility. Actions, even when they are merely words, have consequences.

We would all do well to follow Kierkegaard’s advice to think before speaking, but we would also do well to follow the urging of James 3:5-6 and tame our tongues.

Mitch Randall headshot

CEO of Good Faith Media.

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Morning Worship: Chautauqua’s compass set on paradise, Holmes says

by MARY LEE TALBOT on   The Chautauqua Daily

There were many problems in the church in Corinth, but there was one in particular that Paul kept coming back to, said the Rev. J. Peter Holmes at the 9:15 a.m. Thursday morning worship service. His sermon title was “Island Life,” and the Scripture readings were Psalm 133 and 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a.

In 1 Corinthians 1, 3 and 12, Paul comes back to the problem of divisions in the church. Some said “I belong to Paul,” others to Apollos, others to Cephas (Peter), and others to Christ.

“Imagine, the church had these incredible pastors, what a blessing — and they were not getting along,” Holmes said.

Similarly, there are divisions in our world today.

“I did not have to cross the border to learn about the divisions in your country; the whole world knows,” Holmes said. “The world sees our religious divisions and there is a whole generation who sees the bad mouthing among us and has said ‘Enough.’ ”

Holmes told the congregation that we have to be honest about who we are, but that we have much to learn from other religions without compromising who we are. He described a conversation he had with Rabbi Arthur Waskow about a gospel text and how he came away with a whole new perspective.

The squabbles in our own churches do damage to what faith in Jesus Christ is all about, Holmes said. There are divisions about theology, leadership, money and music.

“Paul called the Corinthians back to something,” he said. “Paul said that he had done the planting, Apollos had done the watering, but it was God’s one purpose and Spirit that made the church grow.”

We are here to do God’s work, he told the congregation; faith always comes back to God because God so loved the world. Paul used the metaphor of a team, but in 1 Corinthians 12 in the letter to the Corinthians, he used the metaphor of the body of Christ.

“It was brilliant,” Holmes said. “We are to be the body of Christ, empowered by the Spirit to carry on Christ’s work in the world. That is why unity is important; if we don’t have unity then we are not doing the work of Christ.”

Holmes thought that the Corinthians read Paul’s metaphor as something humorous. Paul wrote that the foot cannot say to itself that it is not a hand, therefore it was not part of the body. The ear could not say it was not an eye, therefore it was not part of the body.

How ridiculous it would be if the body were all eyes — where would the sense of smell be?

“It is a reminder to us how much we need each other and how ridiculous it is if we think we can do it all on our own,” Holmes said.

Holmes is a great fan of “Doc Martin” star Martin Clunes. Clunes does documentaries for the BBC and one of Holmes’ favorites is about the islands that surround the British Isles, the little islands around the big islands.

One of the islands Clunes featured was Forewick Holm in the Shetland Islands, whose one inhabitant, Stuart Hill, declared it the “Sovereign State of Forvik.” The island is only 2½ acres, and when Clunes landed on the island, Hill asked for his passport.

“I think Paul was holding up a mirror to all those who allow divisions to rest in the heart,” Holmes said. “They can end up looking silly. Paul reminds us that we need each other. We have a high calling to be Christ in the world. We need God and God’s Spirit to always draw us together.”

Paul wrote at the end of 1 Corinthians 12 that he had a “more excellent way.” Holmes said Paul was still speaking to the divisions as he named them clanging symbols or noisy gongs. He was calling them back to love because Christ came in love. Paul called the Corinthians to be “re-membered,” to be put back together with love and patience and kindness, he said.

Clunes visited another island in the Outer Hebrides, Barra, home of Clan MacNeil. It has a population of 1,200; everyone knows everyone and is known by everyone. Yet it is a warm, welcoming place and even outsiders feel cared for. For Clunes, it was a kind of paradise on earth.

“Oh, Chautauqua, you have got your compass and navigation system set on paradise,” Holmes said. “Stay close to the love that enfolds you. Wherever you go, take it with you, and together may we know paradise in our cities, churches, places of worship, homes and hearts.”

The Rev. Dan McKee presided. Shelby Frank, a scholarship student with the International Order of the King’s Daughters and sons, who is pursuing a bachelor’s in education in public Health at the University of North Texas, read the Scripture. Joseph Musser, piano, Barbara Hois, flute, and Rebecca Scarnati, oboe, played J. S. Bach’s “Trio Sonata in D Minor” for the prelude. The Motet Choir sang “Psalm 133,” by Richard Proulx under the direction of Jared Jacobsen, organist and coordinator of worship and sacred music. The Alison and Craig Marthinsen Endowment for the Department of Religion and the John William Tyrell Endowment for Religion provide support for this week’s services.

TAGS : 9:15 AMISLAND LIFEMORNING WORSHIPTHE REV. J. PETER HOLMESWEEK TWO

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