Why Not Regulate Religion and Speech?
Tibor R. Machan
When I was in college ages ago the truth in advertising and lending and such measures were high on the agenda of modern liberals. Oddly, they were the same people, usually, who declared themselves to be loyal champions of free speech, defenders of an absolutist stance on the First Amendment to the US Constitution. But not when it came to commercial speech. You know those people in commerce—all chronic cheats and liars, of course. (The modern liberal’s hatred of commerce trumps their most cherished ideals!)
One time when this campaign against commercial speech was in progress, I walked by a church that featured a huge sign saying “Jesus Saves.” My mind immediately started to consider, well why not truth in religion? Why only commerce? Indeed, isn’t religion far more important to most people than mere business? If modern liberals insist that the task of good government is to be our nanny, to engage in paternalistic—what is now often dubbed “precautionary”—public policies, why don’t they all advocate strong federal regulation of religious speech? After all, nearly everyone believes that those who peddle religious ideas they do not share are charlatans, liars and cheats. And what they peddle, of course, is far more harmful than anything put into an advertisement, something most sensible people realize is filled with hype, gimmickry and not statements of purported truths. All those religious charlatans—I leave it to the reader to pick his or her own list—are misleading thousands, millions of human beings about what is by many people regarded of the utmost importance, namely, how to secure their everlasting salvation in the afterlife. If one is mislead about this, one won’t just purchase hazardous goods or services but lose forever one’s chance to attain the greatest prize of all! Surely this, more than anything else, requires some solid, conscientious federal, state, county, and similar government intervention.
But no. Entirely inconsistently, modern liberals—and, indeed, many folks of all ideological positions—insist that when it comes to this absolutely vital aspects of their lives—actually, their everlasting existence, here on earth and thereafter—people may be trusted to their own resources. They and their family and friends and fellow parishioners and such are entrusted fully with the job of taking care of all this, without introducing the state. Indeed, this last is deemed by most modern liberals—and, again, by many others—as completely anathema to what government’s role is in human community life. Other than outright attacks upon people, deliberately devious fraud and the like, government must stay away. It would be totally perverse to have government act in a precautionary fashion, as it is urged to do when it comes to innumerable other aspects of our lives (most notably, these days, how we related to the environment).
Yet this is totally absurd. And there is also the absurdity, when one considers the modern liberals case of government regulation and licensing and inspection and quality control—the stuff done, at the federal level, by OSHA and dozens and dozens of other agencies—that the profession of journalism ought to be exempt from precautionary public intervention. Just watch and read the news and commentaries—they are filled with malpractice! Journalists routinely rush into print with items they have only the faintest ideas about, for example, in various branches of the sciences. They report on matters of no importance at all and treat various people as if they deserved the attention of their customers, viewers and readers. Yet, modern liberals and other champions of government’s role as our protector against the possibility of malfeasance do not advocate the establishment of departments of journalism at the various levels of government.
I must be careful. Someone I knew once quite well, the Louisiana attorney and politician Louis “Woody” Jenkins tried to demonstrate the absurdity of government regulation to members of the state government by proposing, of all things, the regulation of water diviners. Lo and behold, too many of them didn’t get the point and nearly enacted the measure into law!