Does One Have a Right to His Own Belief?
by Eugene W. Clevenger
via The Preceptor, Vol. 1, No. 6, April 1952.
A question that we often hear asked is, Does every person have a right to his own belief? I cannot answer that question honestly and completely with a simple "Yes" or "No", because to me the answer is both "Yes" and "No."
Looking at it from the human standpoint, as far as our constitutional rights are concerned as citizens of the United States, there can be no doubt about it: everyone does have a right to his own belief. Our democracy was founded on religious tolerance, and every freedom-loving American desires its continuance. Also, in a very true sense, the Scriptures teach that an individual has the right to choose what he will believe or disbelieve. But the point that many overlook in discussing this question is, the Bible teaches that if one chooses to believe error and disbelieve Truth, he must suffer the consequences of his choice.
God has made man a free moral agent with the power and permission to choose what he will believe and how he will live in this life. God uses no force whatsoever to compel a man to believe something or do something against his will. In this sense, man does have a right to what he will believe. But every man has placed before him right and wrong, truth and error. If man wills to believe that which is wrong and that which is error, he must suffer the consequences of his choice In this sense, man does not have a right to his own belief; that is, he cannot believe anything he simply wants to believe and still be pleasing in the sight of God.
The Right of the Atheist
For example, a man who does not believe in the existence of Jehovah God says, "Everyone has a right to his own belief, and I choose not to believe in God." The question is: Does that atheist have a right to his own belief? Yes, as far as God's forcing him or anyone's forcing him to believe in God Almighty. He has a right to his own belief or disbelief in that sense. But if when he says, "I have a right to my own belief," he implies that he will not have to suffer the consequences for such atheism, I maintain, the Bible being true, he does not have a right to his own belief.
The Right of the Infidel
Here is a person who denies the tenets of Christianity, and especially the deity of Jesus Christ. He does not believe that Jesus was the divine Son of God, but accepts Him as a mere man. We try to show him by the Bible that Jesus was God manifest in the flesh, but he replies, "Everyone has a right to his own belief, and I choose not to believe in the deity of Jesus." Does he have a right to that belief? Surely he does! No one in heaven or on earth will compel him to believe against his will that Jesus Christ was and is the Son of God. He is a free moral agent; he can choose to believe what he wants to believe. But if when he says, "I have a right to my own belief," he means that he will not have to suffer the eternal consequences for such infidelity, I affirm positively he does not have a right to is own belief. If he thinks he is as pleasing to God in his infidelity as I am in my belief in the deity of Christ, he is wrong! He has a right to his own belief as far as coercion is concerned to make him believe otherwise, but that is the only sense in which he can truthfully say he has a right to his own belief.
The Right of the Denominationalist
Here is one who denies that baptism has anything at all to do with one's salvation from sin. He maintains that a sinner can be saved, die and go to heaven without submitting to baptism. We try to reason with that person by showing him that Jesus said, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved," and that Peter said, "Repent and be baptized for the remission of sins," but he replies by simply saying, "Everyone has a right to his own belief, and I choose not to believe that baptism has anything to do with salvation."
Does that person have a right to his own belief? Yes, to be sure, he does if by that expression he means that no one has the right to force him to believe in baptism. God has made him a free moral agent with the right to choose what he wants to believe. Before him are placed God's Word on the one hand and man's opinion on the other. God has given him the intellect to learn of both, and God has likewise given him the will to decide which he will believe. Here is God's Word as clear as the noon-day sun when it says, "Repent and be baptized for the remission of sins," and here on the other side is man's prejudiced opinion equally clear when it says, "Baptism is not for the remission of sins." The choice as to which we will believe is given by God to all of us. He will not compel us to accept His Truth, but he leaves the decision up to us. In that sense, everyone has a right to his own belief.
But here is the truth that is overlooked -- if, when one stands up in the face of God's clearly revealed Word and ridicules the command of Christ to be baptized and scoffs at its importance, and then to ease the conscience he tries to pass it off by saying, "Well, we all have a right to our own belief in religion," he ought to realize before he stands before the Christ in judgment that he is fooling nobody but himself. If, by his affirming that he has a right to his own belief, he implies that at the judgment he will stand just as acceptable and approved as the man who had enough faith to obey that command, he is unmistakably wrong!
My sincere plea to all is: let us not use the liberty that God has given us to choose between truth and error to believe and practice that which is false, because it is possible for us to believe a lie and be damned.