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Adventists on Freedom of Religious Speech

During the 2010 General Conference Session in Atlanta this summer, the Seventh-day Adventist Church approved a statement on freedom of speech and defamation of religion.

In part it states:

The Seventh-day Adventist Church strongly supports freedom of speech in general, and freedom of religious speech in particular. Although freedom of speech is guaranteed in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, efforts continue to limit speech at both the national level and at the United Nations. In both settings, significant focus has been placed on limiting speech that offends the religious beliefs of the hearer. Seventh-day Adventists affirm sensitivity and respect in all communication. We are thus concerned about speech designed to offend religious sensibilities. However, we believe that ceding the right to the state to control religious speech creates a far greater threat to the autonomy of people of faith than that posed by offensive speech. Indeed, there are numerous examples today of states citing a desire to protect religious feelings to justify the forceful silencing of peaceful religious speech.

. . .

The Church recognizes a special responsibility of those in power to communicate a message that supports fundamental human rights, including all the facets of religious freedom. This responsibility is particularly pertinent to governments, as they are generally in a unique position to encourage robust respect for the rights of their people, and particularly minorities.

While recognizing the right to freely express religious beliefs, Seventh-day Adventists accept the responsibility to self-regulate their speech to ensure it is consistent with biblical teachings. This includes the obligation to be both honest and loving. This is particularly important when discussing another faith as religious passions can prompt a one-dimensional view of others. Honesty does not mean merely stating facts accurately, but also placing information in an accurate context. Seventh-day Adventists will be constrained by Christ’s law of love in all they say and do. When the God-given gift of speech is used to communicate in love, we will bless not only our fellow human beings; we will honor the God who made us all with the gift to express ourselves.

While at the Session, I was asked to record my thoughts on the statement for Adventists About Life. Here are mine, as well as reflections by Dr. John Graz, director of the Seventh-day Adventist Department of Public Affairs and Religious Freedom, and Jan Paulsen, former General Conference President.

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