A recent flurry of wanton government raids on churches, law offices and newspapers dramatize just how fragile our freedom has become. But why? What went wrong? What is behind the erosion of your liberty to be free from unreasonable government intrusion?
The Worldwide Church of God isn't the only group which has had to endure the wanton, brutal seizure of its own records over the past few years: Some cases in point: • Recently officials from the California Attorney General's Office spent seven hours rummaging through the files and records of a firm of attorneys. The attorneys were representing a religious group (the Morningland Church of Long Beach, California) whose headquarters were being raided at the same time. • One hundred thirty-four FBI agents burst into three offices of the Church of Scientology in Washington and California and hauled away what one newspaper report described as "tons of stuff." Since then, Church of Scientology offices in Riverside, California, have been raided by local sheriffs looking for evidence of alleged wrongdoing. • The Supreme Court (Zurcher v. Stanford Daily) has upheld the search of newspaper files even' if the newspaper itself is not suspected of breaking any law. • In California, the Attorney General's Office has attempted to seize the records of yet another religious group, the Faith Center Church of Glendale. What these cases have in common is a willingness on the part of the government to seize the private property of individuals and churches in order to go on a fishing expedition. Yet until about twelve years ago this kind of conduct would have been struck down by the courts as blatantly illegal and contrary to the Constitution! The Fourth Amendment of the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution gives each person the right to be safe against unreasonable government searches and seizures. The Fourth Amendment simply reads: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized." The Fourth Amendment should protect your right to privacy. And it most assuredly does! However, there is another aspect to the Fourth Amendment: the — Amendment also protects your property from unreasonable search and seizure. Law enforcement officers shouldn't be allowed to go rummaging around your personal possessions. However, for the past twelve years, American courts have failed to emphasize that the Fourth Amendment protects your property as well as your privacy. Thus, government officers will continue — without your diligent defense — to violate these constitutionally guaranteed rights. The moral to the story seems to be that once governments begin to disregard property rights, other human rights also are soon violated.
The Right to Property
The right to own private property is part of the very Ten Commandments of God. "Thou shalt not steal" (Exodus 20:15) and "Thou shalt not covet ... any thing that is thy neighbor's" (Exodus 20:17) mean that people must respect each other's property. God's condemnation of human governments which seize the property of their citizens is poignantly brought out in the biblical account of Naboth and Ahab (I Kings 21). Ahab the king was the sovereign of Israel — the government, if you please. Ahab coveted a piece of property (a vineyard) lawfully owned by one of his subjects, Naboth. At first, Ahab considered lawful procedures for acquiring the vineyard, namely buying it from Naboth (verse 2). After Naboth refused to sell, Ahab's wicked wife Jezebel appealed the coercive powers inherent in the fact that he controlled the government: "And Jezebel his wife said unto him [Ahab], Dost thou now govern the kingdom of Israel?" (Verse 7.) Jezebel then brought a false indictment against Naboth — a trumped up charge of blasphemy (verse 10)and arranged for perjured testimony to convict him in a kangaroo court-like setting (verse 13). After Naboth was stoned, Ahab took possession of the property (verse 16) — an act which incurred the specific anger of God Himself (verse 19). Moreover, the Bible goes on to point out that one of the inherent evils of human governments is their tendency to seize what is not lawfully theirs! Thus the prophet Samuel, upon learning that the children of Israel were rejecting a theocracy in favor of a human sovereign, told them: "This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you: He will take [seize] your sons.... And he will take your daughters.... And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your olive yards..." (I Samuel 8:11-14).
In the early 1970s, when the Communist Salvador Allende came to power in Chile, he sought to crush all opposition. But he also wanted to preserve the appearance of democracy. So instead of just ordering the army to shut down all opposition newspapers, he tried to do the same thing in a more insidious manner. He had the government socialize the banks, the utilities, and the paper mills. He still allowed a "free press," but that press soon found it couldn't keep publishing because the government controlled everything the opposition newspapers needed! Of course, many people aren't really all that concerned when the government forbids individuals to own things like banks and pulp mills. But we soon discover that free newspapers rely — on those paper mills, and when government owns everything, government is able to dictate what a newspaper will say. And such a horrendous result is a direct consequence of the government's failure to respect the right of other people's property. Clearly, freedom of the press is bound up with freedom to be secure from government seizures of property. This shows us how the distinction between "human rights" and "property rights" is a false one. Precious freedoms having to do with intangible things like speech, thought and religion cannot be exercised without material things like paper, ink, presses, radio and television facilities, and even means of transportation to meet people. Take away these material things and there is no freedom of speech, press or religion! This is why the pervasive, smothering government control of economic life has its prophetic aspects. In the famous "mark of the beast" prophecy of Revelation 13, we find what is, in fact, a nightmarish, overregulated society: "And he [the beast] causeth all... to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads: And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name" (Revelation 13:16-17). The time of the tribulation will be a time of a "famine... of hearing
"The Bible points out that one of the evils of human governments is their tendency to seize what is not lawfully theirs!"
the words of the Lord" (Amos 8:11). It will be a time of outright religious persecution (Revelation 6:9-11) under the aegis of a resurrected Roman Empire. And it will be a time, as we have just seen, when all economic transactions will be closely regulated by the "beast" power. Now consider: The famine of the hearing of God's Word is a result of government seizure of the property necessary to propagate God's Word. Control over all economic transactions makes it impossible to buy such things as paper, ink, or airwaves. And what, after all, is religious persecution but the ultimate in government "consumer protection," paternalistically denying the individual his own free choice in the religious "marketplace"! Even today, in this pretribulation era, in a secular society, there are those who would use the state to deny to others the free exercise of their religion, usually under the excuse that people need to be "protected" from "harmful" choices. They fail to realize that the very basis of a free society is the free choice of individuals. In a free society, adults are treated like adults, and they do not need Big Brother "protecting" them from what Big Brother has not put his official government-regulation seal of approval on. It is no coincidence that the true Church of God has only been able to preach the gospel of Christ's Kingdom to a mass audience in free countries. (To many unfree countries, God has had to send His Ambassador to the nation's top leadership.) If, as in East Germany or Bulgaria, for example, the government doesn't permit private ownership of radio or television stations (almost always in the name of the public "welfare"), then God's Church, or any other church for that matter, cannot even buy time to air its message. There is a direct relationship between freedom of speech and the right to own property. God's Church has a God-given duty to preach the gospel (Matthew 24:14; 28:19). In these end times, it has a unique opportunity to bring the gospel to the whole world — something which, because of the sheer physical size of the globe, has never before been possible! But it is only possible because we live in an age when the physical property of mass media can be privately owned. When courts allow the seizure of private property, they not only threaten the Great Commission of Christ to His Church, but lay the groundwork for the most compacted period of totalitarian horror the world will ever see (Matthew 24:21). Many in the United States are very zealous over the right of privacy and the right of free speech. They should be! Without such rights, God's Work could not be done here. But many of these same people have neglected to be as zealous over the right to own property. Now they are discovering that when government denies property rights, other civil or human rights will not escape.