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Land praises Supreme Court ruling affirming free speech

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–A decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that affirmed the right of religious, political and other interests to knock on doors to promote their causes won high praise from Richard Land June 19 on his weekly Richard Land Live! radio program. And Land, who also hosts the daily For Faith & Family radio program, said the right extends even to speech that many may not welcome.

In an apparent effort to encumber groups as diverse as the Girl Scouts and Jehovah Witnesses, town leaders in Stratton, Ohio, had required those desiring to go door-to-door to first get a permit from the city. Yet June 17, the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for citizens in Stratton to knock again on doors without permission from the local government. On an 8-1 vote, the high court dismissed a lower court ruling that upheld the small town’s statute on door-to-door canvassing.

In the name of protecting elderly residents from door-to-door solicitors, the village board required anyone who wanted to knock on the doors in the community to promote a cause to register first, said Land, president of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

The court case, which was brought by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, extolled the value of free speech and rejected concerns about homeowners’ privacy, Land continued.

“No one should have to gain the government’s permission to go door-to-door to discuss politics or religion,” he insisted.

He said Stratton, Ohio, officials wanted groups to convince the government that their claims and messages were not fraudulent in order to get a city permit to canvass the town’s neighborhoods.

“It should not be up to the government to decide whether or not a group will have the right to propagate its faith to the people in a community,” Land said. “Stratton officials wanted to be the final arbiters of what’s fraud and what isn’t, and what is acceptable and what is not.

“That’s outrageous and it is clearly unconstitutional,” Land said. “The court decision is a tremendous reaffirmation of the First Amendment to our Constitution and the right to freedom of speech as well as to the free exercise of religion.”

Land said evangelicals and members of other faith groups must realize if the government is allowed to restrict the rights of Jehovah’s Witnesses or some other minority religious groups today, the government may well turn around and to do the same thing to them in the future. “When we defend the freedom of religious expression for Jehovah Witnesses, we are defending our own right to share our faith,” he explained.

“Allowing Jehovah’s Witnesses to knock on my door is a very small price to pay for the right to protect freedom of speech, freedom of expression and freedom of religion in the United States of America,” he said. “If you don’t want to open your door, you don’t have to open it, but you cannot say that the American people lack the right to share their faith door-to-door,” Land insisted.

A caller to the Richard Land Live! program expressed appreciation for the principle of religious liberty underlying the court decision but said he didn’t feel Jehovah Witnesses should be able to pitch their brand of religion door-to-door, saying they were “false prophets” offering “false teachings.”

“As an evangelical Christian, I adamantly disagree with the Jehovah’s Witnesses on many, very important theological issues. They are a cult,” Land responded. “But I will defend to the death their right to propagate their faith.”

Free speech is often controversial, Land continued. “We all are for free speech when the speech we are hearing is speech we agree with, the problem is when we are hearing speech with which we totally disagree.

“The alternative is to allow the government the so-called right to protect us from speech they think may be dangerous or fraudulent,” Land said. The government should not be in the position of censoring religious speech or restricting what it considers errant speech, he said.

“If we are concerned about what Jehovah Witnesses are teaching, then we need to go out door-to-door and share our faith to help people understand what the true gospel is — that Jesus Christ is indeed the Son of God, that He is the pathway to salvation and that we must trust Him and Him alone,” Land said.

He said court cases like this one underscore the fact that it is imperative that Christians pray for their elected representatives. “We need to be heeding God’s command in the Bible — praying for all of those who are in authority over us,” Land said, “that means our senators, congressman, the president and the nine justices on the Supreme Court.”
For more information on the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s broadcast ministries, visit www.faithandfamily.com.

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  • Dwayne Hastings