The Blood of Religious Liberty Enabled Freedom of Speech

Written by Geoffrey P . Hunt
Saturday, 03 March 2012

It is religious liberty, freedom of conscience, and the right to assemble in order to practice community religious tenets that preceded and framed free speech everywhere else and anchored the First Amendment. Without religious liberty, the foundations under the First Amendment would collapse.

Around the turn of the 2nd century, St. Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, was condemned by a Roman tribunal to be torn apart and eaten by lions in the Coliseum. What was his crime? Ignatius was condemned because his speech was subversive to the Roman social order. Having a public audience worsened his exercise of free speech; speaking freely in front of an assembled mob was the real crime.

Speaking and teaching the Gospels, according to the Apostles, of whom John was Ignatius’ mentor, was the content of Ignatius’ speech. Moreover, Ignatius is credited with asserting the notion of the Church as universal and catholic, from the Greek katholikos.

But Ignatius’s death sentence didn’t chill his free speech. He managed to preach in dozens of venues along the route of a condemned man from Syria to Rome. There are at least seven letters from Ignatius, written during his death march, considered to be authentic, and perhaps another half dozen attributed but of disputed origin. His epistles ranged from declaring the divinity of Jesus to the central truth of the Eucharist being the body of Christ to the need for hierarchy and structure in the Church. All religious speech — all about religious doctrine and religious polity.

The lives of the Christian saints, chronicled by three centuries of persecution and martyrdom at the hands of Roman oppressors, all had storylines akin to Ignatius’s, although his prolific writings at that time made him more prominent than most. The bloody and horrifying struggle to assert religious speech, assembly, and organization was relieved only by the conversion and intercession of Constantine in the 4th century.

Where were the secularists, apart from Socrates 700 years earlier, extolling the virtues of unfettered political speech? There weren’t any.

Because the most radical idea worth dying for was the Incarnation, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Christian theology remained the most compelling font of intellectual inquiry and discourse until the 17th century. And in England, the wellspring of free political speech, religious protagonists schooled the monarchy, the establishmentarian Church, and political scientists about freedom of conscience and the merits of a pluralistic society.

Now, it is also true that over the ensuing 1,200 years since Constantine, religious speech, doctrine, and polity were co-opted by the state. In the most remarkable contradiction of history, despite the cruel oppressions of free speech from the unholy alliances amongst monarchs and the Church, the origins of analytical thinking, intellectual rigor, and the exercise of free conscience came from theologians, apologists, and non-conformists within the Church.

From Tertullian to Augustine to Thomas Aquinas to Martin Luther, battles for free speech, assembly, petition, and press, the exercise of publicly displayed freedom of conscience and pursuit of intellectual discourse — all took place within the Church or by churchmen.

Yet we’ve become accustomed into thinking that rights to free speech and assembly arrived via an asteroid, spontaneous combustion, or even a virgin birth (as George Weigel quips in The Cube and the Cathedral) around the time of the 1688 English Bill of Rights — an eventunconnectedto religious liberty.


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Editor’s Note: The following statement is taken from the website of the Institute for Scientific Analysis

As of October 2009, the Institute has received several inquires regarding an August 31, 2009 article in the American Thinker. Mr. Geoffrey P. Hunt, the author of the article, as far as we can ascertain, is an executive in the electronics industry and a regular contributor to the American Thinker. His work has been attributed to Geoffrey P. Hunt, PhD, Senior Scientist at Institute for Scientific Analysis. Please note Dr. Hunt has never written anything for the American Thinker and would appreciate any help in rectifying this case of mistaken authorship/identity.

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Live in Gwinnett, GA next to Lake Lanier Islands. Married with four children. Pastored three churches over 18 years. Spent time serving as an Army Chaplain. Traveled in ministry to over 34 countries. B.A., M.A., M.Div., M.A.T.S., D.Min. BCC with NSC. Covering Georgia and upstate South Carolina

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