Sounds of Silence: Freedom of speech and religion

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“Hello darkness, my old friend.” I wonder if Simon and Garfunkel, in their Jewish lineage and song, borrowed from the many Old Testament references to human darkness. In Judaism, darkness is that personal selfishness that lies within us apart from God. The conversation with darkness caused a vision planted in my brain resulting in restless dreams I walk alone. In reflection on our history, we had a vision to split up church and state that has left us walking anxiously alone. This approach to freedom of speech and religion strayed from our constitutional roots and has resulted in the suppression of speech, effectively silencing religion.

Reverend Isaac Porter was a local Granby pastor in 1794. He learned under the teaching of Timothy Dwight (president of Yale), who greatly feared that Jefferson’s enlightenment thinking was a gateway for atheists. Porter defended the state church concept of imposed religion so that people would not be derelict in morality. Ironically, it was persecution of Baptists by the state Episcopal church in Virginia that “cemented” Jefferson’s enlightenment thinking. As a result, in 1788, Madison made a deal with the persecuted Baptists for the ratification votes for the constitution. They surprisingly voted for the federalist constitution in exchange for the promised First  Amendment freedoms of both speech and religion.

The 1960’s turmoil of assassinations, war, protests, sexuality and music was as a flash of a neon light. Government codified the “the flash” with a “new” Supreme Court community standard of separation of church and state, unlike Jefferson’s old separation from state churches. The court chose to limit public expressions of religion to churches and to secularize the public venues in decisions regarding prayer in schools and public property displays of religion and speech such as Christmas creches. Silence like a cancer grows. Over time, anxiety levels, addictions, suicides, and mental health rates have increased as we have minimized or ignored Biblical wisdom. There were some who warned, but their words like silent raindrops fell into the wells of silence.

 As “silence” grew, the people bowed and prayed to the neon God they made. We have become our own higher power, expecting the legislatures to solve the cancerous anxieties. However, the divided legislatures struggled with civil discourse, dangerously armed with social media coercion and “political correctness.” The division mindset even affects churches that either try to act as state religions coercing morality or at times bow to the pressures of the social changes we’re experiencing. The result of trusting ourselves tends to yield only more anxiety and despair. “Darkness” seems to be dividing us and potentially conquering us.

 As a result, the Bible, the most popular and banned book in human history, a balance of hope and restraint has been silenced as the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls and tenement halls. It’s thought of as nothing more than mythology with the growing ignorance and rejection of its teaching in my lifetime. It seems that darkness’s “divide and conquer” has turned our constitutional freedom to our own torment in silence.

As such, I’m for reclaiming freedom of choice in religion and respectable speech (as the two go together), to speak freely about what the Bible says yet not to be imposed upon others. Why? So that people can ask the questions “why?” or “why not?” and not become a coerced voice which whispered in the sounds of silence.

 Perhaps a solution to bridge the silence of the current church and state paradigm is demonstrated by a program at Osborn State Correctional Institution in Enfield. Here in the same room, Christian, Muslim and secular classes are taught to help prisoners find purpose in life again. The prisoners have the freedom to attend any of these classes. It is an ironic and sad comment that we must become prisoners to our own darkness to bridge the culture’s secular philosophy and break the religious silence.

Skip (Walter) Mission, a lifelong Granby resident, has taught Bible classes in Granby and elsewhere for several years at various venues.