Freedom of Speech?

by Attorney David M. Hnath

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Headline: "Ruling gives 'net freedom of speech." Page one, small headline. "A panel of federal judges decided the Internet. . .is protected by the First Amendment guarantee of free speech, and shot down a new law barring 'indecent' words and images." (Connecticut Post, June 13, 1996, page 1). The law that was overturned was one Congress passed in February preventing sexually explicit material from being placed on the Internet. The attitude of many computer users was reflected in this comment by an industry spokesman: "We do believe the Internet deserves the highest protection from government intrusion."

Scary, isn't it? Even many "religious" people applaud the ruling. The following statement by an Internet web page designer for a Jewish temple sums up the view of the religious left: "We object in principle to the government's attempt to regulate the content of online communications. It seemed to me that if the Congress could enact that kind of law, it wasn't a very large step for them to enact a law to regulate religious content as well, which, of course, we do have on our site."

Well, shouldn't we protect our right to say what we want, as Christians, without fear of government intervention? Of course, but that's not what this is all about. This ruling could open a Pandora's box when it comes to government regulation of telecommunications. For those not aware of it, the telecommunications industry has undergone tremendous change in the past couple of years. Many of the same companies that provide cable TV services also provide telephone (and Internet access) services. It's only a short leap from this to "unrestricted" television. To take the above statement a step further: if the Internet deserves the highest protection from government intrusion, doesn't the whole telecommunications industry? And if not telecommunications, how about all of communications, including your daily newspaper?

Scary, isn't it?

"Not a word from their mouth can be trusted; their heart is filled with destruction. Their throat is an open grave; with their tongue they speak deceit." Psalms 5:9 (NIV).

Item: "Students allowed to continue prayer." Page C3, small article, religious section. "(Westminster MD West Middle School) Principal Harry Lambert said he at first banned the prayers because he was concerned about the large number of students praying" and that it "was inappropriate for such a large group of students to pray out loud on school property." He changed his position after the school board's attorney 'advised him that students have the right to discuss religion outside of the classroom as long as the discussion is not disruptive.'" (Connecticut Post, June 8, 1996, page C3, Associated Press item)

The student leader, a 14-year old boy, had been leading prayer groups at lunch for four months. He said the principal threatened him with expulsion if he didn't stop praying on the playground during lunch. Despite it all, the student was quoted as saying "I give praise to the Lord for what happened."

"My tongue will tell of your righteous acts all day long, for those who wanted to harm me have been put to shame and confusion." Psalms 71:24 (NIV).

First printed in The American Night Watch Newsletter, Volume IV, Part 6, June 1996.

Copyright 1999 David M. Hnath. All Rights Reserved.

The American Night Watch is a trademark of the Christian ministry of Sterling M. Durgy.

Quotes are from the New International Version of The Holy Bible. New International Version and NIV are registered trademarks of the International Bible Society.

Permission is granted to reprint this article as long as the copyright is included, this statement is included, and the article is not sold to the recipients.

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This page was last updated October 22, 1999.