Free Speech Martyrs in History II: The Heretics, Research Time, 09/02/2017

So that’s one example John Stuart Mill used to describe how the suppression of free opinion harms society. The pestering presence of Socrates’ free opinion so offended the powerful of his city that they executed him for interrogating their tired received dogmas.

Athens’ leadership executed the man whose work literally produced the Greek Enlightenment in philosophy and science. Not a smooth move, leadership of Athens.

Bill O'Reilly was pivotal to popularizing, in the mid-2000s, the notion
among America's socially conservative Christians that the religion
is under attack in America among that country's socially
conservative Christians.
And the second example? Freedom of opinion in theological beliefs – the suppression of divergent Christian faiths. It seems a bit weird today, since a contemporary reader approaches On Liberty in a world of aggressive Christianity which sees itself under attack.

That aggression is the peculiarly American Christianity – heavily influenced by radical Evangelical Christian movements. I’m talking about a North America where apparently devout Christians are advocating to make discrimination legal.

Basically, it would be legal to refuse a person service or medical care, even fire them from a job, if not refusing would contravene your religious dogma. Want to keep your job while pregnant while unmarried? Or ask me as an employer to include birth control in the health insurance package? Or be allowed in my shop while gay?

Absolutely not! Because my god says no. Far more horrifying than this, is the radical American pastors lobbying and organizing in Africa for laws declaring homosexuality illegal.

Stephen Colbert was responsible for some of the best jokes about
how hilarious this conservative American paranoia about the
persecution of Christianity really was.
Meanwhile, American Christians believe their lifestyle and moral values to be under attack. Religious pluralism or official secularism becomes attacks on the Christian character of society. Even expressing values in favour of civil liberties is seen as a violent opposition to Christianity.

All this pontificating ignores the actual violence Christians face throughout the world beyond North America. Coptic Christians in Egypt and Christians throughout the monarchist, dictatorial Middle East face violence, terrorism, and discrimination.

North Korea has a goal of utterly eradicating Christianity from the country – using concentration camps as the first go-to. That’s only two of the worst among many examples of Christians facing police state oppression because in part of their faith.

Yet Trump, O’Reilly, and Limbaugh prefer to talk about the violence of fellow Americans using secular holiday greetings.

So it can be bewildering to read Mill talking about the state suppression of Christianity in Europe. Well, I suppose I should call it the state suppression of Christianities.

Mill’s Europe in the 19th century was a time of incredible flux in Christian religion. Protestant Churches were splintering and generating constantly, with huge social strife appearing over theological arguments that today are the subject of an otaku interest.

That American Christian paranoia seems especially ridiculous when you
consider how many Christians outside wealthy Western countries face
real violence and persecution. Look at this photo of funeral services for
some of the victims of December's bombing of a Cairo Coptic Church.
The Vatican was an aggressor in a Catholic context, as it fought efforts to bring many aspects of majority-Catholic states’ laws to the responsibility of parliaments and local governments.

And there were struggles throughout Europe’s industrializing societies to force Churches to leave their authoritarian, anti-science principles behind. Well, we’d still recognize that at least.

So in a continent wracked by all these conflicts over differing religious beliefs, it was a radical act for Mill to publish On Liberty. Here’s an essay that argued for free opinion about theological matters was an important condition for building a strong society and achieving essential human goods.

An argument that religious diversity is a path to human betterment. An argument that separated truth as a subject that mattered at all to religious doctrine and practice. One believed in a religion not because it was true and should be believed by all as a basic fact, but because it was your most natural expression of your own quest for the divine.

One enemy present in both of Mill’s examples that argue the necessity of free opinion – state authority.