“My prison will be my grave before I budge a jot, for I owe my conscience to no mortal man.” - William Penn
When I was in second grade, I got in trouble because I refused to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. My memory is vague about exactly why I didn’t want to say those words. Perhaps, I suspected then (as I do now) that we didn’t have ‘liberty and justice for all’. But more likely, I just didn’t like someone else putting words in my mouth, and refused entirely on that principle.
Later that year, one of my classmates falsely accused me of tripping him on the playground. The teacher believed my classmate, and made me stand in the corner until I admitted I’d tripped my classmate and apologized. I hadn’t tripped this kid, and we were going to experience the heat death of the universe before I before I said that I had and apologized for something I hadn’t done.
My teacher really put the screws on. She tried to shame me, at length, in front of my classmates. She told me how awful I was to have tripped this kid, and how I was compounding the awfulness by not admitting it and apologizing.
At the end of the day, I was still standing in the corner.
The next day, she made me stand in the corner all day, and then called my parents.
My parents asked how the teacher knew I’d committed this transgression, and she had no answer that satisfied my parents. My parents suggested that the teacher was headed for trouble, because if I hadn’t done the deed, I was never going to say I had and apologize, no matter how long I was made to stand in the corner. Beyond that, they said they were not going to do anything except encourage me to stand my ground if I was in the right.
And then the next day, the teacher didn’t make me stand in the corner.
She did, however, tell me that she hoped I’d learned my lesson.
I certainly learned a lesson, but probably not the one my teacher intended. The lesson I learned had to do with positions of power, coercion, and freedom of thought, speech, and conscience. No one who believes in freedom of thought, speech, and conscience would ever try to compel you to say something.
Since that experience, my steadfast resistance to compelled speech has only grown greater.
These days we are awash in attempts to compel speech.
The people who say such things are sending an unmistakeable signal that they don’t believe in freedom of thought, speech, and conscience, and they want the absolute power to control what you think, say, and do.