COMMENTARY: People of faith must guard free speech rights


More than 230 years ago, on December 15, 1791, the Bill of Rights to the United States Constitution was ratified. From that day forward, the words of the First Amendment have remained unchanged. As the First Amendment reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Of course, those First Amendment protections have been extended to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment.

So, one is left to ask a rhetorical question: Why should those words matter to any of us in 2023?  It should matter, since even today, the original meaning of the First Amendment continues to be fought over throughout America. Even to this day, the  words of Benjamin Franklin echo loudly the importance of the right of freedom of speech when he wrote, “Without Freedom of Thought, there can be no such Thing as Wisdom; and no such Thing as publick Liberty, without Freedom of Speech; which is the Right of every Man, as far as by it, he does not hurt or control the Right of another: And this is the only Check it ought to suffer, and the only Bounds it ought to know.”

The words of the First Amendment and the words of Benjamin Franklin are especially important to all Americans today, especially to people of faith, as the daily battles continue to suppress the freedom of speech. Sadly, it seems that the only acceptable speech today is that speech that is coerced upon Americans and people of faith, speech which is preferred by the government. 

For years, I have often wondered whether there was an underlying message our Founding Fathers wanted to send to future generations when they chose five freedoms which the First Amendment protects: speech, religion, press, assembly, and the right to petition the government. It is almost as if the Founding Fathers were telling future generations to watch out for a government which would be the Goliath of the future, a Goliath that Americans would face in the years ahead, a Goliath intent on destroying our freedoms, especially our freedom of speech.

Take a moment to consider the words in 1 Samuel 17:40, when Samuel told the story of David and the battle with Goliath where it was written, “Then he took his hand, chose five smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of his shepherd’s bag and, with his sling in his hand, approached the Philistine.”

One is left to wonder whether the Founding Fathers were providing future Americans with five freedoms that could serve as five smooth stones to fight the battles that they understood would lie ahead.

Just days ago, justices issued one of the most important decisions in the history of the U.S. Supreme Court, a decision that should once and for all end the debate on the rights of Americans to speak freely. In the syllabus of the Supreme Court’s decision, the Supreme Court wrote, “The First Amendment envisions the United States as a rich and complex place where all persons are free to think and speak as they wish, not as the government demands.”

Yet, even before the ink was dry on the Supreme Court’s decision, the Michigan state House of Representatives passed legislation which would criminalize and punish anyone who would use the wrong gender pronouns. And even worse, imagine being found guilty of this new law that could send you to prison for as many as five years, or fine you to up to $10,000. Yes, you read it correctly, if this legislation becomes law, the Michigan “thought police” could soon be knocking on your door.

Mark Wohlander is  a former FBI agent and federal prosecutor. Reach him at