Freedom of speech is defined by Webster’s dictionary as “the right to express facts and opinions subject only to reasonable limitations (as the power of the government to protect itself from a clear and present danger) guaranteed by the 1st and 14th amendments to the U.S. Constitution and similar provisions of some state constitutions.” Freedom of speech, according to this definition, is a right given to the citizens of the United States by law. In that sense, freedom of speech is not a biblical concept but a political one specific to a certain time and place in history.
The founders of the United States believed that mankind has certain “inalienable rights” including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Under that umbrella of liberty falls freedom of speech. Thomas Jefferson spoke of these rights as having been endowed to man by his Creator; he called the right to liberty “inherent” and postulated that governments are instituted in order to allow man (the governed) to secure those rights and to pursue his rights freely. The liberty and consent of the governed were, in Jefferson’s mind, imperative for governments to be efficient and beneficial.
The idea that the Creator has endowed us with the right to liberty is debatable, but it is true that God created man with a free will. Adam and Eve had the liberty to partake of any fruit in the garden (except one), and they even had the liberty to disobey. God created man to serve Him, to know Him, and to enjoy Him forever in eternity, so liberty within the bounds of righteousness is certainly a biblical ideal. Christians believe that serving God and enjoying a relationship with Him is the ultimate liberty. The ultimate freedom is found in belonging to Christ (Galatians 5:1; 2 Corinthians 3:17). Sin brings bondage (Romans 7:14), but the one who belongs to Christ is spiritually free (Romans 8:2).
But does that spiritual freedom from sin entail political freedom of speech? Perhaps not directly, but speaking the truth in love is a biblical mandate (Ephesians 4:15). Therefore, any government law that guarantees citizens the right to speak the truth aligns with godly principles. By the same token, any law that suppresses a person’s right to speak truth is working against God’s command. Freedom of speech does not guarantee that truth is told, of course, but it does permit it to be told. In the final analysis, there is no conflict between biblical principles and the civic principle of freedom of speech.
Despite the First Amendment, in the United States today, Christians do not have total freedom of speech. There are things we believe, ideas clearly taught in the Scriptures, that are now considered “hate speech” in our world of political correctness. A society that proudly proclaims freedom of speech and then creates laws against hate speech is talking out of both sides of its mouth. Laws and governments aside, there are still what we might call “social laws” in place, and when Christians are faced with ostracization due to their beliefs, it certainly does not demonstrate freedom of speech. Many believers throughout history have been persecuted by their societies because the expression of their beliefs did not line up with the status quo. A notable example is Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, whose refusal to bow down to the king’s idol landed them in the midst of a fiery furnace (Daniel 3:1–26).
God wants us to obey Him and to speak according to His Word. If obedience to that principle makes people hate us or gets us thrown in jail or even killed, we are not to back down. God wants us to speak the truth boldly (Ephesians 6:20), but He never promises that we will always be free to speak without consequences.