Freedom of speech can be very costly depending on what you say


Freedom of speech does not mean that speaking your mind comes at no cost.  You have the right to say what you want, but it may come with consequences, hence a cost. 

The paper, other than to be a media platform, has stayed out of the debate on whether the county should remain dry or wet.  We did, however, express our opinion that the citizens should have the right to make that decision. 

Before our recent election, we heard that a concerted effort was mounted to thwart the petition process to get the issue on the ballot, and after all is said and done we believe that fact to be true.  The signatures that were turned in to have the initiative placed on the ballot were not certified in time and, based on what we learned or have been told, that was planned. 

The reason was to give the opposition time to rally.  The majority of folks, including many in the churches, had no knowledge of this.  Sitting circuit clerk Steve Womack suggested that the signatures could be banked and the sale of alcohol issue could be voted on at a later date (this Tuesday). 

The truth of the matter is that the signatures were never totaled until after the Board of Supervisors called a special meeting to determine whether the issue could be placed on the ballot.  So it did not matter whether there were enough signatures or not,  the will of the people of Simpson County was not going to make the decision on whether the county would be wet or dry. 

The group who opposed even having the issue on the ballot--Simpson County Christian Coalition--is led by Wayne Womack, Steve’s half brother.  According to my preacher, Dr. Jim Taylor of First Baptist Church of Magee, Womack was selected as chairperson. 

There was then discussion as to whether the validity of the signatures could be the basis for a lawsuit.  We heard rumors that some clergy even went to look at the signatures in an effort to “call people out.”  A lot of names of people we know to be valid registered voters were stricken from the first initiative.  Can you imagine someone having the nerve to take you off the voter rolls? Sounds like the 1960s.

Then after enough signatures were collected we heard there was discussion about filing a lawsuit to challenge the petition.  The big problem with that is that the suit would have probably included the existing clerk. 

I went to visit with my pastor to find out what our church’s position would be, and he told me he had hoped that the congregation would oppose making the county wet.  I told him I understood.  But he went on to say it would not be confrontational.  I understand that.  My personal perspective did not play into this. 

However, the sign that was displayed around the county -- “Vote against liquor, Stand with Christ on Nov. 5”-- seemed confrontational to me.  My interpretation of the sign  is that God was not in my life if I voted for alcohol.

As it turned out a lot of people in the community also feel that the sign was very confrontational.  Sort of like if you don’t vote the way I want you to, you are going to hell.  The statement is very judgmental and that in itself is something a Christian is not supposed to do--judge others. And it doesn’t promote freedom of speech and freedom of opinion.

I felt compelled to go back and visit with Dr. Taylor again and tell him how I perceived the sign.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a problem with being against alcohol but saying “you don’t stand with Christ if you vote in favor” is not good. 

What about saying “If you don’t tithe you are not standing with Christ”?  Many who call themselves Christians are against liquor but don’t tithe.  Are they standing with Christ? 

Dr. Taylor explained that he had lost good friends because of alcohol, that it was a stumbling block to people and that sometimes you have to take a stand.  I got that and agree but the message, I felt, was wrong. 

I suggested that since we have proven that churches can mobilize against problems, we should take on other issues like improving our public school system.  All too often we have a tendency to talk about what we should do rather than take action. 

I hope the Simpson County Christian Coalition, which opposes alcohol sales, will take on other issues in our community with the same zeal they have with alcohol.