I’m all for free speech. That’s a corollary to freedom of religion, something that Baptists have championed for 400 years.

While favoring free speech, however, I confess that it really gobs my stopper when people abuse their right to free speech by freely speaking lies.

I’ve noticed two yard signs recently, both designed to express free speech. The first one has really rankled the town of Cary, N.C., because a man had someone paint a large DayGlo message on the second floor of his white house: Screwed by the Town of Cary.

You can understand why town officials don’t care for the sign, and they’ve been levying increasingly heavy fines against the homeowner. The man has a legitimate beef, however: Cary widened the street in front of his house and raised the roadbed, taking half of his front lawn and several trees, moving the street within a few yards of his second story, relocating his driveway and leaving him with a serious drainage problem.

The town considered $5,300 to be an appropriate level of compensation, though the value of the home has doubtlessly fallen considerably more than that. The homeowner’s exercise of free speech may be irritating, but at least there’s truth to it.

On the outskirts of Apex, I noticed a large hand-painted sign that someone had propped up beside the road in his or her yard. It was an anti-Obama health care plan sign, perhaps related to the orchestrated shouting matches that have plagued legislators’ attempts at having civilized town hall meetings.

The problem with this person’s sign, which is also an exercise of free speech, is that it contained either untruths or twisted truths. Though I don’t recall the words exactly and didn’t stop to take a picture, it said something like “Obama Health Plan: 12 million illegals covered, government decides your care.”

In the first place, many people with no health insurance, whether citizens or immigrants, illegal or not, already receive government-paid care when they show up in emergency rooms, where care always costs many times what it would have if the illness was treated earlier.

The first part of the sign’s message, then, is just plain misleading. Providing an organized system to provide health care to the poor, including immigrants, will certainly cost something, but it’s not as if we’re not already spending mega-millions on emergency room care.

The second part is a flat-out lie. All valid information I’ve seen about the plan insists that people who want to keep their current health care (in which the insurance company may decide on your level of care) are welcome to do so. There’s nothing to suggest that the government plans to take over the entire health care system, socialize medicine and make everyone’s medical decisions for them.

Such hogwash is fed by people like Sarah Palin, who recently called the plan “evil” and claimed it would lead to a “death panel” that would decide who lives and dies based on their level of productivity. She used her baby who has Down syndrome for political ends, claiming the child would have to stand before an Obama “death panel” and let bureaucrats decide it he was worthy of health care.

Get real. When confronted with the bogus nature of such scurrilous claims, opponents tend to say something like “yes, but it’s inevitable.” They may think that full-blown socialized big-brother medicine is inevitable, but to claim that is Obama’s plan is blatantly false.

Though the right of free speech allows Obama’s fear-mongering opponents and their right-wing radio instigators to lie and twist the truth and raise ridiculous rumors, it’s a shameful abuse of the right. In their fervor to bring down Obama, they can’t see how they endanger America. Some use irresponsible language that tries to draw parallels between the health care plan and Nazism, something at least one rabbi has found troubling.

The cranky noise we’re hearing reminds me of those ridiculous double-the-volume TV commercials that blast from the set and send you scrambling for the remote control: There’s no rule that says commercials can’t be louder although some have tried to regulate them, but punishing the viewer’s ears is neither respectful nor smart.

Whether it’s a mean-spirited sign or an ear-splitting commercial, such efforts to get attention remind me of the old English actor Sir Cedric Hardwicke’s self-proclaimed motto: “When in doubt, shout.”

Tony Cartledge is associate professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School and contributing editor to Baptists Today, where he blogs.

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