Christians today don’t conceive of the eschatological culmination laid out in Biblical prophecy as something they have to try to bring about – and certainly not through the means of the armed state. Whether Catholic or Protestant, Christians believe fundamentally that while the church is and should be a positive influence in the world, God’s relations with men are not brokered by the state. Rather, they must be respected by the state, must be honored as a positive influence in the people’s lives, and – from the standpoint of regulation or other law, and certainly from the standpoint of assessing religious doctrine – must be left alone.
These ideas underlie the quintessentially American view that government – and the national government in particular – must not seek to repress or punish speech about God. We are all going to say things others find offensive, whether it’s sophomoric atheists calling Christians “Christofascists” and mocking our “Sky God,” or Christian leaders proclaiming that God doesn’t hear the prayers of Jews, or Jews proclaiming that the Messiah hasn’t come yet – or, indeed, anyone of any faith (or none) saying that he doesn’t believe Mohammed was a prophet of God.
Restricting religious, philosophical, artistic, or intellectual speech is inherently a slippery slope. There is no way to do it safely. Today Islamic radicals may riot over ridicule of Mohammed, but it will not stop there. The day will come quickly when a Christian or Jew who simply rejects Mohammed as a prophet of God – however quietly or respectfully – will be considered to have defamed Mohammed and Islam. Yet faithful Christians and Jews must reject the Mohammed proposition. It cannot be accommodated in their relations with God.
The American Founders had the answer to this, an answer derived from centuries of learning, thinking, inspiration, and painful adjustment in the Judeo-Christian West. The answer is that human government does not broker or settle these issues. It punishes rioters, regardless of why they riot, and it protects the lives and rights of citizens with whom the rioters disagree.
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