BATH, UNITED KINGDOM - FEBRUARY 25: In this photo illustration a a 12-year-old school boy looks at a iPhone screen A 12-year-old boy looks at an iPhone screen showing various social media apps including TikTok, Facebook and X on February 25, 2024 in Bath, England. This week the UK government issued new guidance backing headteachers in prohibiting the use of mobile phones throughout the school day, including at break times. Many schools around the country are already prohibiting mobile phone use over concerns. The amount of time children spend on screens each day rocketed during the Covid pandemic by more than 50 per cent, the equivalent of an extra hour and twenty minutes. Researchers say that unmoderated screen time can have long-lasting effects on a child's mental and physical health. Recently TikTok announced that every account belonging to a user below age 18 have a 60-minute daily screen time limit automatically set.
Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

The Briefing.

Tuesday, February 27, 2024.

It’s Tuesday, February 27, 2024.

Part I

Are Social Media Platforms Public Utilities or Publishers? SCOTUS Considers Huge Questions Related to Free Speech and Social Media Companies

Oftentimes big cases come before the Supreme Court of the United States, and depending on which side of the worldview divide you may be on, you pretty much know exactly how you want the decision to be handed down. You know the issues at stake, you understand the constitutional interpretation that’s in play. And so there are so many cases these days that come before the nation’s highest court and just about everyone understands that they fall out in predictable lines in America’s culture war. But sometimes there are cases that don’t fit that kind of category, even if the issues are just as volatile. And in this case, we’re talking about the issue of social media. We’re talking about the cancel culture. We’re talking about whether or not social media platforms, and you know the big names, have the right to censor speech on those platforms, even to cancel accounts or to remove postings.

And the background to this, is that just about everyone knows that there is a disproportionate cancellation of conservatives, even as the media platforms themselves are overwhelmingly part of the Silicon Valley and the high-tech culture of the West Coast. But with all that just setting the stage, let’s understand that oral arguments were held before the Supreme Court yesterday in a pair of cases that have to do with these very questions. And in particular they have to do with whether or not the states of Texas and Florida had the right through their state and legislative power to adopt policies that would require the major social media platforms not to cancel or to eliminate certain forms of speech. So the cases came before the Supreme Court precisely because you had federal appeals courts, known as circuits, that were in conflict over the question. And when you do have federal courts in conflict, the Supreme Court of the United States has to step in and decide the case.

And so, arguably, this is not a case the Supreme Court may have decided to hear on its own that is either of these two cases, but with the conflict at the level of the appellate courts, the Supreme Court had to step in. And if you were paying attention to yesterday’s oral arguments, it was pretty clear that a majority of justices seemed to be extremely reluctant to support the Texas and Florida laws, precisely because they want to understand and to affirm a very deep First Amendment right even for American corporations, even social media platforms. Alright, what’s really at stake here? Well, for one thing, you have politics heating up in the 2024 election cycle. So you could expect that this case, which would have a normal amount of volatility anytime, has a special amount of volatility now. So let’s just ask ourselves the question. If we were justices on the United States Supreme Court, how do we think we would decide this kind of case?

So here is a fundamental question. What is a social media platform? And here’s a situation in which frankly, there’s a bit of confusion everywhere you look. So let’s put it this way, conservatives and in particular the governors and the legislatures in the states of Texas and Florida, conservative, color them red as in overwhelmingly Republican. Those governors and the states are making the case that the social media platforms are basically public utilities. They are much like say the old telephone system. Others are arguing, “no, they’re actually like massive publishing platforms.” Well, here’s the deal. The telephone company didn’t have the right to censor any of the content that might be transferred telephone to telephone. It was a public utility. It did not have First Amendment rights. It functioned in many ways as a public utility. Now you take a newspaper, say the New York Times, clearly that is a commercial publishing enterprise. And the Supreme Court has been very clear in previous precedents that a newspaper like the New York Times has vast first amendment rights that the government is going to respect and is not going to curtail.

So are the giant social media platforms, public utilities, or are they publishers? Now you might think that’s an easy question to answer, but it’s not. And at times you have liberals and conservatives answering one way and then the other. You have the social media platforms arguing one way and then the other. The Supreme Court’s going to have to figure this out, but let’s at least understand a part of what is at stake. Number one is the reality: conservative speech is more likely to be canceled and censored than more liberal speech, and that’s because of the entire cultural setup of these vast social media platforms and frankly, the people who run them. This has been a matter of controversy for a long time. So the states of Texas and Florida, through their respective state governments, stepped in and adopted policies that were intended to prevent these social media platforms from canceling speech based upon its content.

On the other hand, you have the platforms themselves, which at times have basically tried to claim that they’re public utilities and that’s why they should be shielded from liability. They also want to argue on the other hand that now they’re publishers and thus they are due First Amendment freedoms and vast latitude in making these policy decisions about what can and cannot be posted and frankly, who can and cannot post. Now what about conservatives? Well, to be honest, we have made many of the same arguments at times. These vast platforms have looked like public utilities. At other times they and similar businesses have looked like publishers. But here’s another issue. The left is very prone to calling the government to solve a problem. Conservatives, far more reluctant by worldview. And remember, it’s by worldview, not just by some kind of political instinct, it’s by worldview. There is the strong belief that you don’t want to bring government in particularly to censor speech, or for that matter even to be directly involved in this kind of enterprise, because that will just involve the government with entanglements that conservatives by instinct want to avoid.

But now you have conservatives who have called in the government in order to bring about a correction in these social media platforms. And so liberals can say conservatives have basically made contradictory arguments in this context. And you can also have conservatives saying to liberals, you have brought in some contradictory arguments. One fascinating part of these cases before the Supreme Court, and remember, the oral arguments were held yesterday. One of the fascinating things is that you had liberal academics, primarily making the liberal argument on behalf of the social media platforms, but you also had some very significant liberal legal figures who were arguing as it were for the conservative side. And on the conservative side you had something of the same thing. 

And that’s because this is not an easy issue, and when you’re conservative or you’re liberal looking at this question, quite frankly, it can cut against both arguments. It’s a very difficult situation. It’s a new thing in terms of technology and social media. It is obviously a very powerful thing and conservatives are very right to be concerned about it and to be aware that a leftward direction or tilt in these social media platforms and in the entire world of so much of this high technology transfer, there is a very real liberal bias and there’s a very real danger that conservatives will be canceled or marginalized.

But it appeared rather clear in the oral arguments yesterday that even conservative justices on the nation’s highest court are reluctant to believe that government regulation is the answer. At this point, we’re probably going to have to wait until June to know how the Supreme Court’s going to rule, but this is going to be an epic historic decision when it is handed down. Let’s just remember now what’s at stake. What are the huge questions that came before the court, how the court answers those questions? Well, we’ll talk about that when the court answers. 

Part II

No Difference Between a Boy and a Chimp? Steven Wise, Champion of the Animal Rights Movement, Dies at 73

But next, a very big story with vast worldview implications has appeared once again as an obituary and it is an obituary that didn’t gain that much attention, and it was about a man who died back on February the 15th. But just in the last few days, the New York Times ran a major obituary with a headline, “Stephen Wise, 73, lawyer who championed animal rights is dead.” The subhead in the article, “He filed lawsuits to define chimpanzees as persons and to free them from captivity.” Now, if you think this is a big story, I want to tell you it’s a lot bigger than you might imagine. First of all, you have an obituary of a man who very sadly died of glioblastoma, a very aggressive form of brain cancer, and the obituary came days after his death. And the obituary reflects the fact that he was known as a very early and energetic champion of the movement that became known as the Animal Rights Movement.

But I have followed his arguments for years. I have known of his influence and frankly have observed his worldview. We’re talking about something here that is far more radical than most people recognize. Steven Wise came to the attention of many Americans if they heard his name at all precisely because of his legal activism on behalf of animals. He established what was known as the Animal Legal Defense Fund. He was also the founder and president of what was known as the Non-Human Rights Project. He taught at major law schools around the country. He became known as a proponent of animal rights following in the influence of Peter Singer, a professor now at Princeton University, who is in many ways the founder of the very radical modern Animal Rights Movement. But in worldview analysis, this turns out to be so important because here we come to understand what happens when you lose a Christian worldview and a biblical understanding of what it means to be human because here’s something we just need to recognize.

This is a basic and very urgently important principle of Christian worldview thinking. If you confuse, or especially if you deny the distinction between human beings and all animals, then what you’re going to do is not raise up the animals, you will lower human dignity. That’s just the way it works out. That is just the way it worked out in the life and thought and activism of Stephen Wise. Here’s how the obituary starts, “Steven M. Wise, a pioneering animal rights lawyer who gave voice to clients unable to testify on their own behalf, demanding the same moral and legal entitlements as their owners, keepers and custodians, died on February the 15th at his home in Coral Springs, Florida. He was 73.” So just notice what is in that lead sentence. He’s a pioneering animal rights lawyer who gave voice to “clients unable to testify on their own behalf,” and what did he demand? “demanding the same moral and legal entitlements as their owners, keepers and custodians.”

In other words, explicitly, he was seeking to deny the crucial distinction between human beings, homo sapiens on the one hand, and animals on the other hand. Now, he wasn’t making the argument that all animals are highly intelligent or to use the more precise scientific term, highly sentient, but he did emphasize in particular the more highly sentient animals, including, for example, chimpanzees. The New York Times in the obituary, seeking to explain his aim, said that what Mr. Wise was trying to do was to argue on behalf of animals recognizing “their personhood as cognitive, emotional, and social beings who have the same moral and statutory entitlement to freedom that people do.” Now, the freedom category here has to do with the fact that Mr. Wise, invested a great deal of his energy and legal effort in trying to argue that highly sentient animals should not be held in captivity. You couldn’t hold human beings in this kind of captivity, so you shouldn’t be able to hold others.

Again, the classic example would be chimpanzees used in medical research. He brought cases to court and he argued on behalf of these animals, as his clients, arguing that they had the right to be represented in court just like human beings. Now, by the way, not arguing from a high ground to biblical principle, but just arguing from say legal fact and common sense. Most of the courts almost immediately threw out these actions because it is true that these animals could not represent themselves in court and represent their own interests. Mr. Wise claimed to do that. But it’s also true that they couldn’t be hauled into court and held accountable for any number of say, legal infractions. And so, one of the falsities of this worldview about animal rights is that it argues that animals are the same as human beings, but it can’t keep that argument straight.

You don’t have animals arrested for violent acts. There are other ways of dealing with violent animals, but you do not have them charged by police, handcuffed and taken into court and arraigned. You pretty much get the picture. As a lawyer, Steven Wise tried to use arguments against holding human beings in custody and apply them to animals. As I say, he didn’t get very far in the courts, but what’s of particular concern is that he did make a great deal of progress in pushing his ideas in legal culture and in particular in law schools, including some elite law schools. He taught, for example, at Harvard Law School. In a 2005 lecture, he said this, and in worldview significance, just hear these words. “Certain species are capable of complex emotions, can communicate using language and have a sense of self, all characteristics that once defined humanity.” Now, that’s an astounding statement because you’ll notice he says they once defined humanity.

What he meant by that was that once you have to come up with a legal definition of what it means to be human, if all you have are capacities, then those are the kind of capacities that you’re going to list. Now, from a Christian perspective, that’s exactly the problem. We do not believe that human beings, and by that we mean every single human being, deserves respect as a human being because we possess certain capacities. We believe that every single human being deserves that respect because we are made in the image of God and thus set apart from all other creatures by our status, not just by having some capacities or capabilities. Now, Mr. Wise’s argument points to the danger of believing that somehow you do establish human rights or human status on the basis of such capabilities because it works both ways. Certain human beings who may permanently or temporarily lack those capabilities such as consciousness and the ability to communicate, there are people who would want to deny their status as human beings.

On the other hand, there are animals that are highly relatable and highly intelligent. There are even animals that arguably use a certain form of language or communication, and thus are they to be treated as human beings simply because of those capabilities? You can understand what this really demonstrates is that the secular worldview doesn’t have any stable or adequate way to define human beings as apart from the animal kingdom. So far as the modern, materialistic, secular evolutionary worldview has it, we are just more developed, more sophisticated, more highly capable animals. You destroy that distinction and let’s just notice it doesn’t take deep theological insight to understand virtually everything is lost. Now, Mr. Wise actually made a statement that makes that grotesquely clear. At one point he said this, “I don’t see a difference between a chimpanzee and my four-year-old son.” Now, let that just sink in. Here’s this animal rights lawyer who said, I don’t really see a distinction between my 4-year-old son and a chimpanzee.

Now that’s just a chilling statement. As a matter of fact, it’s hard to imagine a more chilling statement that could be made by a father. And no doubt he made it as a loving father, but we’d simply have to say is a very confused father, very confused. Horrifyingly confused indeed. In arguing for animal rights for these highly sentient animals, he described eight species in addition to chimps that might fit that category and thus deserve the same rights as chimps, or as human beings. They would include gorillas, orangutans, bonobos, Atlantic bottlenose dolphins, African gray parrots, dogs, honeybees, and African elephants. Now, the statement he made about his own son should be not only shocking, but deeply concerning. But it’s also interesting to note how his personal data was reflected toward the end of this obituary.

“In addition to Sienna Wise, his child from his marriage to Deborah Slater, which ended in divorce, Mr. Wise has survived by his wife, Gail Price-Wise, a daughter Roma Augusta from his first marriage to Mary Lou Masterpole, which also ended in divorce, a son Christopher from his marriage to Ms. Slater and a brother Robert. He is also survived by Yogi, a Yorkshire terrier-Maltese mix, whom he described as his canine companion.” Now, I wanted to read that just exactly as it is written in order for you to sense the force of what’s going on here. This is redefining obituaries. So the animals show up as members of the family, and this is in the New York Times. That’s what makes this so significant.

If in the nation’s newspaper of record and in particular it’s newspaper with obituaries of record, this scale of obituary appears as straightforwardly reported as this is. And with that change, in terms of how the family is reported, this is not just an obituary, it is a sign of the times. And at least at this point, I think you’ve heard enough to know it’s a sign of the times that should concern us all. But just in terms of worldview analysis, it’s so important for us to recognize that if you abandon a biblical understanding of what it means for human beings to be made in God’s image, if you abandon the notion of human beings as found in scripture, then you are left with no objective foundation upon which to build any lasting argument for human dignity. And so eventually we are going to show up in court with elephants and chimpanzees because eventually there’s not going to be sufficient argument against it.

Part III

A New Aggression on Abortion? Governor Gavin Newsom Pushes Abortion Ads in Conservative States

But finally, for today, I’m speaking to you from the state of California where the state’s governor, Governor Gavin Newsom, on Sunday unveiled a massive plan to use California leverage for the cause of abortion across the United States. Theresa Watanabe reporting for the Los Angeles Times tells us, “California Governor Gavin Newsom unveiled a multi-state ad campaign to combat proposals in several Republican controlled states that he said aimed to ban out-of-state travel for abortions and related medications.” So you look at this, you recognize, here’s the story, and this is really a very significant and also shocking story. You have the Governor of California, the Democratic governor of a very liberal state when it comes to the apparatus of state government. And he is leading an effort for a massive ad buy, but not in California where he’s the governor, but rather directed towards more conservative states which have adopted pro-life legislation.

Now you see at least a part of the picture of the nationalizing of all of these issues, and you also see how modern politics is playing out. Gavin Newsom isn’t trying to win votes in California. He’s trying to gain national attention for what’s almost assuredly at some point a run for the White House. And you also have his activism here, not in the state of California where he’s governor and quite frankly would have plenty to do, but rather you have him capitalizing on red states that are adopting pro-life legislation in order to try to gain national notoriety. And frankly, to frame the argument in such a way that he not only makes himself a contrast to say pro-life governors, but he makes the state of California stand out as a blue state in contrast with red states. 

Now by the way, defenders of the California governor will want to speak up and say he is not spending state funds here. These aren’t California taxpayer funds. They are campaign funds that have been given to the Newsom campaign. That’s actually a very revealing thing in itself because that’s exactly what this is. This is actually part of a Newsom campaign. But nonetheless, the most important thing to recognize here is that the cultural left is certain that they’re winning this argument. They’re absolutely certain that pro-lifers are going to be left behind in the dustbin of history. They’re absolutely certain that their argument is going to win, and they’re so certain of it that it has become absolutely central to Joe Biden’s campaign to be reelected President of the United States. It’s a special assignment given to Kamala Harris, the vice president, in terms of her campaign role. It is becoming an animating principle for the Democratic Party coast to coast. It is the party of abortion rights, and they will talk about it all the time now precisely because they believe it is a winning issue.

They believe that history is on their side. They’re quite confident the political momentum is on their side. And so here you have the California governor on a Sunday, don’t miss that, announcing this massive ad campaign directed against pro-life states, which have enacted restrictions on abortion. Governor Newsom appearing on the Sunday morning program, Meet the Press said this, “We’ve defined the lines of this debate. We’ve been on the offense, not on the defense. We need to be even more aggressive, I would argue. And that’s what this ad represents.” So you’re looking for a strong, very undeniable cultural signal? Well, there’s one. The governor of California says that there is not enough aggression on the pro-abortion side, and thus, this ad campaign is just, you might say, an opening salvo in what’s going to be an overwhelming assault against any restrictions on abortion by what they’re certain is the winning side in a cultural ascendancy here in which they believe that America is going to turn decisively pro-abortion and decisively against pro-life legislators and politicians.

Now, something important to note here is that just a matter of a few years ago, and we don’t mean 20 years ago, just five or six years ago, Democrats were trying to temporize on this issue because they didn’t want to offend voters by appearing too aggressively pro-abortion. Notice how that strategy has been left in the dust. Now, the Democrats are concerned that they’re not pro-abortion enough, that their aggressive pro-abortion stance needs to be actually amplified and even increased, or in this case, even advertised. But there’s another aspect of this Christian need to recognize, and this is how the political game is played. So let’s be honest here. The aim of this ad campaign is not truly for Gavin Newsom to reach out to pro-life states and convince the citizens of those pro-life states of the pro-abortion argument. That’s not what he’s doing. No, the way this game is played is that this ad campaign led to national headlines, including the fact that major programs like Meet the Press, invited him on to talk about it.

That’s the way this game is played. Don’t believe for a moment that the real target of these ads is the people in Tennessee and Alabama and Oklahoma. You’re kidding yourself. No. The real target of these ads are the producers of the national media, and the denizens of the national political culture. This is exactly how this game is played, and in this case, the governor played that game rather well. But before we leave this, I want us to note who is absolutely missing from Governor Newsom’s advertising campaign. The person who’s absolutely missing is the unborn child, because the unborn child is the one person that the pro-abortion movement can’t ever reference. If you watch this ad campaign or you listen to the California governor talk, the entire question of abortion is nothing more than the question about a woman. But the very fact that we’re talking about abortion reminds us that it’s not about just a woman. It’s about a woman and an unborn child. One truth is for certain, we’re about to find out what Americans really believe about that unborn child.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing. 

For more information, go to my website at You can follow me on Twitter by going to For information on the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to For information on Boyce College, just go to 

I’m speaking to you from Orange County, California, and I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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