Interesting thing about truth these days, is that everyone seems to cling to some concept of it, but generally rejects competing truth claims out of hand. Still, they continuously seek validation for their own reality. The claims of the mainstream church are that A) God has worked in history through Jesus Christ, and generally couches this statement in salvific terms; B) Jesus inaugurates a new way of life that reflects the presence of God's kingdom (at least partially); and C) this is the truth that preempts any other claim and should inform every legitimate world view.
However, reality and truth are indeed only real and true to the point of the explicit outcomes generated by faithfulness to a claim. In other words, the truth of the church is that A) much of its claim is propagated by coercion, and the portrait of a suffering servant as Salvific is vandalized by the violence and oppression used by the Church as a method of "evangelization" of the rest of the world. B) The new way of life that has been lived out by much of the Church, especially in the Western world, is that of economic exploitation and social injustice that betrays the foundation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as recalled by the authors of the Gospels. C) This lived- out truth has indeed trumped the claims that the church has somehow carried on the salvific work that God has fashioned through the life of Jesus. Apparently, the ingredients of a faithful servants community have not been followed faithfully (though, perhaps, religiously) by those invested in the truth claims made by the church for centuries.
It is easy to blame Constantine for all this, though not enough Christians do, and more than enough view him as a divinely inspired hero who conquered justly in the sign of the cross. The fact may be that once Christianity became a duly recognized legal religion within the empire, it lost its radical vision of a Jesus who saves us from the machinations of empire, to the Jesus who would rather be protected and propagated through the militarily defended gospel of Caesar.
So what does the first amendment mean to the Church of God. First of all, it means that it is very easy for me to sit here and write about it because I am in fact protected by it. But we should all beware that we are still worshipping the God who liberates humanity with or without constitutional guarantees, according to God's own sense of justice, and not according to the will of a benevolent government who may or may not like what the church has to say. It seems to me, that the more we hurrah the state as the protector of justice, the less critical we are as the Body of Christ of the injustices the state carries out against those who are not protected by our Constitution. How long will the church support a system that props up dictators who suppress the same rights it reserves for its own subjects/constituents.
As we can tell by uprisings that happen throughout the world, free speech is an ideal that forces itself into political reality sooner or later in every society. Sometimes, very painfully, with tremendous loss and tremendous sacrifice on the part of those who seek it. Free Speech is a matter of justice that the people of a Living and Liberating God should insist upon. But lets not be grateful for a state that allows it on specific terms. Let's be thankful for a God who inspires us to speak out about justice and liberation and obedience to the command of equality for every person.
Let's be thankful for a Messiah who spoke out against the empire who claimed to be Representative of divine will, and more critical of a nation state that feigns to be the benevolent protector of divine interests.