There was a section of Michelle Boorstein’s article on campus proselytism that deserves a separate post. Hidden within the article is a classic justification for speech codes — that speech should be free unless it deals with issues that really matter, then the university may need to step in.
In the article, I noted that universities often encourage a wide range of speech but then are quite squeamish about Christian speech, especially if a person is sharing their faith in Jesus. Georgetown’s John Borelli responded:
“But there is a difference when it comes to matters of faith, Borelli said. “You’re talking about one’s convictions as one relates to God,” he said. “So you’re talking about something profound to our being, our position of faith, to our relations with God. That would be the qualitative difference.”
In other words, talk about God — since it is “profound” — impacts people more and should receive less protection. Yet isn’t the entire concept of free speech designed to protect expression that can truly impact (and, yes, change) individuals and cultures? When Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote his “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” it was so powerful precisely because it related to “one’s convictions as one relates to God.” King wrote:
“But more basically, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the prophets of the eighth century B.C. left their villages and carried their “thus saith the Lord” far beyond the boundaries of their home towns, and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco-Roman world, so am I. compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.”
King was directly challenging how his fellow clergymen put their faith into practice, using the most explicit religous language. I’m sure that he hurt some people’s feelings — and maybe even made them feel “devalued.” Yet we are all better off as a result of King’s directness. It is this kind of religious speech — speech that challenges, provokes, and transforms — that is most vital to our culture.
It’s a shame that where people like Dr. King saw opportunities for hope and change, campus administrators see only hurt feelings and disgruntled students.