Too many times, it is easy for us to take our freedoms for granted. This week is Freedom of Speech Week, and we will look at this freedom along with the other freedoms in the First Amendment.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. (The First Amendment)
The First Amendment gives us these five freedoms:
- Freedom of religion
- Freedom of speech
- Freedom of the press
- Freedom to peaceable assemble
- Freedom to petition
These freedoms are often discussed separately (i.e. as separate clauses), but there is a great connection between all of them. Our Founding Fathers knew this and put them together on purpose. They also put these freedoms first of all the Amendments.
Roger Williams was the first contender in the battle for these freedoms. He arrived in the Massachusetts colony in 1631 with dreams and ideals of freedom, especially that of religious freedom (liberty of conscience). He believed that each person should have the right to believe and woship God as their own conscience dictated. While many that left England had a similar ideal of religious freedom, a state religion was quickly established in most of the colonies. Massachusetts was no exeption. About five years after his arrival in Boston, Roger Williams was banished for holding and teaching “new and dangerous opinions.”
What were his “new and dangerous opinions”? They were the freedoms embodied in the First Amendment.
There was no freedom of religion (a person was punished if they did not follow the established religion). There was no freedom of speech (people were not allowed to vocalize their opinions). There was no freedom to peaceably assemble (people were imprisoned and/or beaten for holding “unauthorized” church services). There was no real freedom of the press or to petition.
The ideals that Roger Williams fought for were, and still are, Baptist (and, most of all, Biblical) teachings. Baptists have always fought for these rights throughout the ages. They fought the local governments from the time of Christ, the Roman Empire, and then the various Protestant groups that emerged from the Reformation (remember, Baptists are not Protestants and did not come from the Reformation).
In our country, Baptists have fought for these basic freedoms in our country as well. Men such as John Clarke (pastor of the first Baptist church in America), Obadiah Holmes, Isaac Backus, and John Leland were just a few of the Baptists that fought and suffered for these freedoms. In fact, Isaac Backus and John Leland had a great impact on Thomas Jefferson (the writer of the Declaration of Independence) and James Madison (the Father of the Constitution).
We need to learn from these things in history and truly appreciate the freedoms that we have and the cost for us to have those freedoms.