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Listen, Speak and Learn
by James Robison

06/29/2007

"The surest signs of a healthy society are open and free debates."

-Thomas Jefferson

One of the hallmarks of American greatness lies in the First Amendment:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press..."

These two ideas, religious liberty and free speech, are not a hodgepodge of concepts thrown into the same statement by happenstance. In fact, the foundational Judeo-Christian guidelines regarding speech provide the basis for a society that can be trusted with the freedom to express itself in words, both spoken and written. Yet, now more than ever, the abuse of this freedom and the havoc it can wreck can be clearly seen in the public forum.

Religious tradition condemns certain kinds of speech. It is considered morally wrong to lie, to speak perversions, to condemn people, to manipulate and to otherwise speak things for evil purposes. Most rational-thinking adults, whether religious or not, would agree that these things are destructive to individuals and society as a whole.

Traditional thought holds that when people exercise self-control in their words, they can then express themselves freely in the public marketplace of ideas. But too often we seem to be afraid to speak our minds or to allow others to do so.

Thomas Jefferson said, "The surest signs of a healthy society are open and free debates."

Most debate today is either one-sided or reduced to quick sound bytes. The recent presidential debates, both Democrat and Republican, have been loaded with moderators demanding "yes" or "no" answers. In the complex issues that face our leaders, this approach is beyond ludicrous. We must allow everyone -- from candidates to common people -- to express themselves fully and freely.

One of the pillars of my book The Absolutes is "Truth Withstands Debate." In it, I wrote:

The founders' first word on liberty was this: Give ordinary citizens from every walk of life the freedom to disagree. Let every voice be heard. Permit no argument to be silenced. Let no debate be censored. Ensure everyone the right to be heard -- and the right to be wrong. In our ongoing pursuit of liberty and justice for all, we must reaffirm our commitment to the core American principle of freedom of speech. There must be a place at the discussion table for everyone, including the many well-reasoned, articulate people who hold to the absolutes. Unless we uphold the right of every viewpoint to be represented, our society will suffer irreparable harm.

We must not be afraid to dialogue with people of divergent views; nor must we be afraid to openly disagree. Truth will come out when we engage in honest, respectful debate. An inability to do so results in exactly the kind of governmental meltdown we witnessed this week, as congress continues to fail in the area of border security and immigration.

The proper handling and treatment of immigrants, both legal and illegal, needs to be discussed and debated until enough common ground can be found to do something constructive. Border security, however, should need no more discussion. It should happen immediately. Secure it, deal with it and settle it!

This is the type of critical issue that demands the ability to dialogue. Questions must be asked, truth must be found and free speech must be defended. At the same time, lies, misrepresentations and other dishonest speech must be exposed, deplored and denounced.

Freedom of speech is valuable, but the ability to listen to others, express the truth and solve problems together is priceless.

Publishing Information

Author: James Robison

Word Count: 580

About the author: James Robison is the founder and president of LIFE Outreach International, an international humanitarian aid ministry; host of the television program, Life Today; and author of The Absolutes: Freedom's Only Hope.

Media Contact: Randy Robison, editor at jamesrobison.net