The United States has freedom of religion, and to say Christians are “persecuted” here is surely overblown, compared to how Christians are treated in other parts of the world. And yet, overt persecution could conceivably break out even in this land of the free. But how, given this country’s constitutional guarantees of freedom of religion and freedom of speech?
We are seeing some of the ways this could happen and to a degree is already happening. The right to religious freedom can be played against other rights that are considered more important. Thus, religious opposition to certain kinds of sinful behavior can be treated as illegal discrimination. A Christian’s disagreement with other religions can be outlawed as hate speech.
Another legal argument is taking shape in Georgia, where a college is being sued for not permitting a Christian student from preaching the Gospel, even though he had reserved space in one of the two campus “Free Speech Zones.” (That a college allows free speech only in “zones” is itself a travesty, both of the ideals of higher education and of American law. According to the Constitution, the whole nation is to be a free speech zone.)
The college is defending itself on the grounds that the preaching constituted “disorderly conduct.” And that by calling people “sinners,” the preacher was using “fighting words,” which are legally outside the bounds of free speech.
One can envision a time when the freedom of religion applies only to religions that are universalist, permissive, non-proselytzing, and culturally-conforming. That is to say, hardly any actual religions.
Georgia Gwinnett College tried to dispel a First Amendment lawsuit by claiming that it removed a preacher from campus because his discussion of the Gospels “rose to the level of ‘fighting words.’”
The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) filed a lawsuit in December challenging the Georgia college’s restrictive speech policies after student Chike Uzuegbunam was repeatedly prohibited from discussing his Christian faith on campus, even after he had obtained permission to do so in one of the school’s free-speech zones.
According to the December lawsuit, Uzuegbunam was informed that he could not distribute religious pamphlets outside of the school’s library because he was not in one of the two on-campus free-speech zones, which ADF notes account for a combined 0.0015 percent of campus.
Yet even after following the proper procedures and reserving space in a free-speech zone, Uzuegbunam was again told to desist, this time because his speech had apparently “generated complaints” and constituted “disorderly conduct.”. . .
Now, though, ADF has informed Campus Reform that the school has filed a motion to dismiss the case, arguing that the plaintiff’s “open-air speaking” rose “to the level of ‘fighting words,’” as evidenced in a copy of the motion obtained by Campus Reform.
“Plaintiff exclaimed a divisive message directly to a group of ‘many’ individuals while standing on top of a stool, and, in doing so, actually caused a disturbance,” the motion contends, adding that the “Plaintiff used contentious religious language that, when directed to a crowd, has a tendency to incite hostility.”
In support of its reasoning, the school cites two previous cases in which street preachers were found to have engaged in fighting words by referring to people as “sinners.”