Christians and Banned Books - Part 1

Written By: Timothy Fish Published: 9/29/2007

For those of you who read the article I posted to this site on September 28, 2007, I promised that if you would come back I would give you an article discussing the issues surrounding Christians and banned books. As you will recall, the interview that I referenced in the article more or less called the American Family Association one of the bad boys of those who ban books. Given the number of Christians who are involved with this group, I would imagine that such a statement is likely to raise the hackles on a few people. We have to ask, is the AFA wrong or is book banning that big of a problem? What position should a Christian take on this issue? Before we can answer these problems, we must go back to the early days of the United States when men were drafting our Constitution. Book banning is a First Amendment issue, so we must go back and understand the First Amendment.

Events Leading to the First Amendment

We have all heard of the Danbury Baptist Association, who sent the infamous letter to Thomas Jefferson and received a reply that many believe erected a separation of church and state, but there much more involved in First Amendment issues than the separation of church and state. Many people have the idea that the reason for the First Amendment is the Church of England. It may be in part, but not completely.

Imagine this scene. Through the New England countryside, along the roads and trails that wind their way through the trees and hills, a lone rider on horseback is traveling at great speed. His horse is winded, but its hooves continue to pound the ground an effort to get the rider to his destination in time to right an injustice. The two ride on until they reach the streets of town. There are more people here, but they do not slow their pace until they reach the courthouse. The rider leaps from his horse, ties it to a post and runs into the building where court has already convened. Many of those in the crowded courtroom recognize this esteemed gentleman. The supporters of the accused hope that this man can offer some wisdom that will turn the tide, but it seems as though it may be too late. The judge is already making his ruling. “I do hereby sentence thee to lie in jail until you rot,” the judge says to the applause of some and the angry cries of others, but the rider is not disturbed. He approaches the judge at a leisurely pace that is in stark contrast to the ride his has just had. “Your honor, I ask leave to address the court.” The judge, knowing who this man is, knows that it is wise to allow him to speak.

The man stands at the front and addresses all who have come to witness the proceedings. His speech does not last long, but the crowd is quickly hanging on his every word. They are quickly find that they are in agreement with what he says, but he still has not told them where he stands on the issue before him. Then at the height of his speech he says the one thing that everyone will remember, “Great God gentlemen, a man in prison for preaching the gospel of the Son of God?” The crowd and the judge continue to stare at the great debater, Patrick Henry, as they contemplate his speech. The accused is guilty, but his only crime was that he was preaching the gospel without a license. Throwing him in jail had not stopped him, he had preached to crowds from his jail cell. Did this man deserve to die in jail for preaching the gospel? The judge thought not and on that day, Patrick Henry’s persuasive speech was instrumental in freeing the Baptist preacher, Jeremiah Moore.

Now I doubt that it happened exactly that way, but we do know that something along that line did occur. What happened to Jeremiah Moore is only one of the things that happened to members of some of the churches that were not in favor with the state churches in that day. Baptists like Jeremiah Moore were required to pay a church tax that helped to fund the activities of churches whose doctrines they opposed. Laws prohibited them from preaching except at a few times and places. I mention this because it was men like Jeremiah Moore and Patrick Henry who were instrumental in bringing about the freedoms that we now have because of the First Amendment.

The Benefits of the First Amendment

While there were many people who came to America with the desire to worship as they pleased, they did not all see that as something that should extend to people of other beliefs. Some of the groups, who had experienced persecution in Europe, came to America and persecuted other groups. It was not enough to have the freedom to worship as they pleased; they wanted to have the right to force others to accept their religion.

In terms of religion, the First Amendment has not only set up a wall of separation between the Congress and the churches, it has also set up a wall of separation between the denominations. Large denominations have no control over the activities of a smaller denomination. A church can now meet anytime it chooses. A church no longer has to pay taxes to other churches. If we did not have the First Amendment, some churches would suffer. Perhaps all of them would suffer as the government sought to silence them.

Problems with Separation

The separation of Church and State is not without its problems, but mostly it is beneficial to Christians. On one hand it makes it difficult for some activities to occur in schools and other government sponsored things, but on the other it prevents the government from silencing us. It even allows for groups like the AFA who are seeking to remove books of questionable moral nature from schools to speak out against the government. Their speech is protected, but when it comes to books, are they really doing the right thing? I will cover the issue of Christian censorship in a future article, so check back here again.