It may seem a bit pedantic, but words do mean something. They have definitions. As thinking moral agents, we intuitively know, for example, what the definition of “is” is and we also know that changing and manipulating the meaning of words – turning them upside down – “is” called something; it “is” called lying. Lying about words and with words always brings ruin rather than reward. As the prophet Isaiah warned: “Woe unto him who calls evil good and good evil, darkness light and light darkness, bitter sweet and sweet bitter…” Words mean something.
Many who stand against the fight for religious freedom today do so in the name of “tolerance,” yet they boldly flaunt their intolerance for all ideas and all people they find intolerable. At every turn, we see them on our campuses, in our courts, and in our culture, masked in angry red faces, shouting: “You must agree with us! You must believe everything we believe! You must watch! You must celebrate! You must applaud!” No dissent is permitted. No diversity is allowed. Unquestioned and unchallenged power is their goal. As David Horowitz warned, these modern day Jacobins believe in little more than “the rule of the gang:” You must submit or you will be silenced.
The question we all face today is clear: do we want to be controlled by such ideological fascism or do we want to fight for intellectual freedom? Should our government have the power to force religious compliance and syncretism on its citizens or do we have the freedom to believe and behave as we see fit in the public square?
Should the government, for example, have the power to force the Jewish owner of the local deli to process ham or sell bacon? Should the government be able to force the Muslim owner of a local newspaper to print Charlie Hebdo cartoons? Should the government have the power to require that a Catholic owner of a billboard company sell his services to someone who wants to mock a sacrament of his church? If your answer is “no,” then how can you possibly think that our courts should have the authority to force the owner of a flower shop in the state of Washington to participate in a religious service that directly violates a key tenet of her faith? How in the world can you contend that it is just or right to force a Catholic order of celibate nuns—called the Little Sisters of the Poor—to avail themselves of contraception they don’t want and will never use?
In the days ahead, remember that words do mean something. Choose them wisely. Define them. Defend them. Demand their respect. Words have meaning and they have power. They shape communities, control the courts and, even, build kingdoms. Remember that he who defines the terms wins the debate and he who defines the words, wins the culture. Remember that the words are “mightier than the sword” and that “… many wearing rapiers are afraid of goosequills.” -William Shakespeare, Hamlet Act 2, scene II