|Frank Wright, Ph.D.
President & CEO
Alone in a jail cell in Birmingham, Alabama, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. penned these words:
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
King articulated a foundational truth, but one not always easy to apply. Our difficulty in making application flows not from our inability to distinguish it as truth but sometimes from our failure to clearly see the reality of it in circumstances around us. Said another way, while we acknowledge injustice as a threat, we do not always see how a threat to others affects us.
In King’s case, he wanted average Americans to understand that ignoring the oppression and injustice faced by blacks was to disregard future hazards to the freedoms of others, even if they could not yet see it. If you will not wake up and defend the rights of blacks, he might have said, who will wake up and defend you when your liberties are at risk? The problem was that many whites did not equate the oppression of blacks with threats to their own liberties. Sadly, it took decades for many to make that connection. Others have not made it yet.
The American Founders saw eternal vigilance as the price of liberty. They knew our freedoms were dearly bought—purchased with the blood of patriots. They knew also that liberties taken for granted were most at risk. Perhaps that is why they put their own lives on the line. Remember their pledge in the final lines of the Declaration of Independence? It reads: “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.” If you know your history, you will remember that some of them paid for those remarkable words with their blood.
Freedom is not free. It never has been; it never will be. And as the federal oath of office says, we must defend it against all enemies foreign and domestic. Oddly, the greatest enemy of freedom has always been human government itself. Why else did the Founders insist on the manifold checks and balances to government power? Largely because they agreed with Jefferson’s assessment: “As government grows, liberty recedes.”
We should well note that this erosion of our freedoms is always gradual, often through indirect means. When our freedoms face a frontal assault, we respond forthrightly. Yet when the threat is indirect—even though it may be no less deadly—we may neglect the imperative of vigilance.
When Martin Luther King wrote from that lonely jail cell, he did not argue his point in a vacuum. Oppression and injustice abounded. Furthermore, his comment about the threat to justice everywhere had a sound historical basis. The frightful reality of justice ignored and therefore denied was played out 25 years earlier in Nazi Germany. Pastor Martin Niemoller described it memorably:
First they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for the communists, and I did not speak out because I was not a communist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for me, and by then there was no one left to speak up for me."
The Scripture speaks of the men of Issachar as men who understood the times. Dr. King understood the times and issued his clarion call. As Christian broadcasters we too must understand the times, and we must issue a bold clarion call of our own:
Restrictions on religious freedom anywhere are threats to religious freedom everywhere.
When we see religious freedom constrained—even religious viewpoints with which we disagree—we must recognize it ultimately as a threat to our rights as Christian broadcasters. If the free exercise of religion is successfully abridged, we will have little earthly defense against the enemies of truth. One need only look to Europe and Canada to see how fragile those freedoms are and how easily lost.
Perhaps the biggest question left on the table is this: “If we do not speak up, will there be anyone left to speak up when they come for us?”