By Mary Jane Fritzen
John Milton’s persuasive polemic for freedom of the press, “Areopagitica” is a must read. Milton’s writing was a major influence for the American Revolution and Bill of Rights. He argues also for freedom of speech and of religion. Constitutional scholar David Adler writes: “It opens a window into a world in which ideas, based on merit and expressed by rich and poor alike, can wield influence and speak truth to power.”
Many have questioned how U.S. citizens, who voted overwhelmingly for laws defining marriage as between a man and a woman, could abandon their loyalty to that institution. Society seems to under- value the proven benefits for children reared in families headed by father and mother. Declining public support for real marriage was influenced by partisan media, academia, Hollywood, and the Obama administration. “Political correctness” effectively hushed much opposition to the LGBT agenda.
Milton’s argument was mostly based upon his Christian beliefs. Yet today some scholars argue that religious reasons are out-of-bounds for public discourse. Dallin Oaks, a prominent jurist and ecclesiastical leader, wrote: “Anyone who knows anything about Anglo-American law knows that the law of crimes and the law of family and a lot of other laws are based on the Judeo-Christian heritage. You can take them right back into the Old Testament. And to say that religious values are not an appropriate basis to make laws—that’s a preposterous argument but it is gaining velocity today. . . . People are . . . contending that a public reason can’t be religious faith or religious values.”
As Milton so successfully argued, we cannot count on laws and law enforcement to regulate the conduct of citizens. Truth requires freedom of knowledge. We need freedom in expression of ideas. Virtue is achieved by choosing between wide and tempting alternatives, not by force of censorship. Elder Oaks said: “Civilized society is held in place by obedience to the unenforceable. And it’s religion that teaches people to obey the unenforceable.” Battling both “political correctness” and denial of religious arguments in public discussion, we need to return to first amendment freedoms.
Milton, the great English Christian poet, reminds us of the faith and effort required for freedom. In this work, published in America in 1644, he wrote, “Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience above all liberties.”
Milton’s treatise is worth reading. To me, it compares to a classic symphony by Brahms. Let’s learn from the past, never assuming we are on “the right side of history” by denying the time-honored meaning of marriage. Marriage and families are worth fighting for; I wish success to our governor and attorney general to do so. Like Milton, we plea for tolerance, not stifling of voices in public issues.
Mary Jane Fritzen is an 83-year old powerhouse and font of wisdom. She’s an articulate and dedicated supporter of the family. Mary Jane lives in Idaho Falls, Idaho.