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The First Amendment and the Cost of Following Jesus

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Photo: After seeing this illegally-placed poster in New York City, Corrine Williams (@CanesIllinigal) shared this image on twitter with the caption, “I’m a Christian woman who voted 4 . According to the people of Manhattan, that makes me trash.” The NYC Dept. of Sanitation said the posters were not authorized.

By Daniel P. Buttafuoco

Lately you might feel as if being a Christian comes with a price tag. Not too long ago, a rogue artist (or rogue group) put up posters purporting to be authorized up by the New York Department of Sanitation referring to Christians as “trash.” While not sanctioned by the city, these posters, nevertheless, represent what many in our hyper-liberal culture feel about Christians (whom are now often conflated to be “Trump supporters,” whether or not that is true). The current public opinion is not in favor of the Bible, nor of Christ or His commandments.

Historically speaking, this is nothing new. For centuries, and even up to today, Christians have been persecuted, sometimes to death in countries and cultures that do not have tolerance of opposing ideas and the concept of free speech. In a Muslim country, the slightest negative comment against Mohammed will get you killed. That is not the case in America, in theory, at least. The law here is meant to protect ideas and speech. In America, the protection against any type of speech with which the majority disagrees comes from the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. It is part of what we call the “Bill of Rights.” You have the right to say and to believe what you want in America. This is true whether you believe Jesus is God or whether you believe you are really a cat and not a human. It’s all protected. Even insane and ridiculous ideas (and speech) are protected under American law.

The First Amendment guarantees protection for all religion and for all speech. This is especially important when those exercising those rights are in the minority or when those ideas and that speech are unpopular with the masses. In fact, the First Amendment was designed to protect unpopular ideas and speech.

Until relatively recently, Bible believing Christians in America were the majority. Even though First Amendment protections were there for both Christianity as a religion and biblical preaching, as speech, they weren’t really needed since the vast majority agreed with those beliefs, even if they didn’t truly practice them. As a result, we have become lax, buying into the notion that everyone agrees with us so why bother to uphold, extol, or even value such protections. After all, free speech guarantees were what those annoying American flag burning protestors would hide behind while they pushed unpopular “radical” ideas. The time to support free speech, however, is ALWAYS, even when you disagree with what is being said—because you never know when you will need the same protections.

Today it seems it is “radical” to actually believe the Bible or to follow the teachings of Jesus. What was once mainstream thought is now considered “hateful” or “bigoted.” How is following Jesus, the ultimate preacher of love and anti-violence, considered “hateful” by non-believers? That’s a good question. It’s not. It seems that it all comes down to lifestyle issues. That is, when one is bent to live as they please, and when that lifestyle or belief conflicts with the Bible or Christ’s clear teachings, most Americans used to feel guilt and conviction before a Holy God. After all, who hasn’t broken the commandments of God in some way? We all do. We are all sinners. We all make bad decisions, at times, contrary to the teachings of Scriptures.

However, when believers in Christ sin we eventually repent and fall in line with God’s commands. It might take some time but we eventually follow Jesus because we know he is right and his teachings are true and meant to bless us. His commands are meant to protect us and give us good and healthy lives. Since God made us, he certainly knows what circumstances and choices make us function at our very best and healthiest. Those commandments are designed to do just that, even if they seem annoying and restrictive at times.

Now, it seems, nobody even wants to hear what the Scriptures have to say. This is especially true when those teachings are at odds with our desires. Even the slightest suggestion that someone’s actions or attitudes might be sinful (i.e against God’s law) is enough to incite indignation and, even, aggression. “How dare you tell me how to live?” But we Christians are only saying what the Bible says. We are not telling ANYONE how to live. These are not our rules. They are God’s commandments. What is meant to be loving correction by a good God who doesn’t want to see us destroy ourselves with bad choices is now seen as officious meddling by “right wing fascists” who are “haters” simply because they believe the Bible, something Western Civilization had believed for thousands of years.

As a result, we are being hated, exactly as Jesus prophesied. He said, “if they hated me, they will hate you, too” (John 15:18). Yes, it’s true.

As Christians, we had better be ready for persecution and to intellectually defend our beliefs with love and respect for others. We are here to point people to God, not to show our “superiority.” We are not better than anyone else. We are all sinners in need of forgiveness and God’s grace. Christians who choose to obey God simply are of the mind that they want to avoid the problems that come with violating God’s laws. We do not wish to be hurt nor to see others fall into those traps which we have learned to avoid.

Preaching that should not be a crime. Preaching that should not get you killed, but it might.

Trial attorney Daniel J. Buttafuoco is the senior partner and founder of Buttafuoco and Associates and the founder of the Historical Bible Society. His latest book is entitled Consider the Evidence: A Trial Lawyer Examines Eyewitness Testimony in Defense of the Reliability of the New Testament.