A tribal shaman was once interviewed by a skeptical anthropologist and asked whether or not he actually believed in the truths behind the spiritual medicine he practiced. The shaman’s reply was surprisingly candid, for he admitted that his technique was completely fraudulent, and yet he still defended it for the simple reason that it often seemed to heal the patients. This brief exchange cuts to the core of the issue of why some people are religious and others are not. It all boils down to two simple questions – “Is it true?” and “Is it good?”
The First Amendment to the United States Constitution clearly states, “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press”. These freedoms are considered so essential to the functioning of our democracy and the preservation of our liberty that they were enshrined in the founding document of our nation, making up the first few lines in the aptly named Bill of Rights. Following a major Supreme Court decision in 1919, later refined by subsequent cases in 1927 and 1969, some basic limitations were placed on these constitutional liberties; namely, that no one has a right to say anything in public which is likely to incite “imminent lawless action”. Together with laws against defamation, whose roots can be traced back to ancient Rome and which forbid causing “false or unjustified injury of the good reputation of another,” as well as perjury, these are pretty much the only restrictions imposed on what Americans are allowed to say in the public sphere.