Free Speech: License or Responsibility?

Image via /Shutterstock

Many countries in the global community do not have the right to free speech. In the U.S., our right to speak out is protected under the Constitution. How well do we live up to the responsibility granted with that freedom?

The Epistle of James is written to urge Christians to practice the ethic of Israel’s covenantal, prophetic tradition. In this particular text, the apostle reflects on the enormous power of speech and the potential of the tongue for doing good or evil. Appeal to the covenantal, prophetic tradition of Israel may suggest two connections for us. First, the covenantal commandments of Sinai, the Ten Commandments, already have in their purview the cruciality of "right speech" — the ninth commandment prohibits "false witness."

The original reference concerns testimony in court. In larger horizon, however, the commandment pertains to the neighbor.