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Thursday, December 19, 2013

Some thoughts about Phil Robertson and freedom of speech

I am assuming that, if you are reading this, you are aware of the controversy regarding Phil Robertson (of A&E's "Duck Dynasty".  If not, try reading this article (or this one) or go to almost any news site and you'll probably find an article about it there.  Before I express my views, I wanted to provide a link to a blog post that, I think, sums things up pretty neatly.

Basically, Mr. Robertson gave an interview to GQ magazine where he talks about his show, homosexuals, African-Americans (in the pre-civil rights era), and other things.  I have never seen the show (nor in all honesty do I care to), so I have no idea who this man is nor, prior to this article, did I have any feelings about him one way or the other.  His comments were, well, let's just say they were not too kind nor were they terribly surprising.

Before I say anything else, it must be noted that, as a private company, A&E is not bound by the limits of the Constitution.  The Constitution, which sets up the government and gives us freedom of speech, does *NOT* apply to private companies.  *PERIOD!*  But, let's set that aside for now because otherwise this would be an incredibly short blog post.

Just as I cannot say that I was surprised at his comments, neither was I particularly shocked at the protests to his suspension by A&E.  You are getting the standard cants about "freedom of speech" and how conservatives are being bullied and what not.  There's even a petition and a Facebook page to bring him back.  My personal favorite is this blog post which says that he was suspended "for agreeing with the Bible".  Please note the utterly deceptive wording.  This wording suggests that he agreed with the Bible and was suspended for that reason, as opposed to being suspended for publicly stating beliefs that are considered offensive to a great many people and which were utterly ignorant.  Two very different things.  The problem is that the second one does not fit into the far right's story about how Christians are being persecuted for their beliefs by the evil homosexuals and their ally, the equally evil liberal media.

First, I want to note that any linking of the suspension and "freedom of speech" is specious at best and downright dishonest at worst.  No one, repeat *NO ONE*, is denying Mr. Robertson his freedom to say what he wants to say or believe what he wants to believe.  One very important fact being lost here is that freedom of speech is in no way, shape, or form equivalent with forcing people to listen or to provide you with a podium from which to state your beliefs.  Also, Mr. Robertson is an employee of A&E and as such what he says reflects on the company.  So, when he spouts off with ignorant remarks that reflect poorly on the company, they have every right to suspend him.

Second, freedom of speech and association (also granted by the first amendment) runs both ways.  Just as each person has the right to express themselves, other people have the right to refuse to listen or to refuse to associate with you.  The fact of the matter is that, as a corporate entity and hence legally a person, A&E has the right to disassociate itself from Mr. Robertson or anyone else who spouts off with ignorant views (or any other ones for that matter).

Third, freedom of speech is not absolute and does not protect people from the consequences of their actions.  If you say something that is controversial (like the Dixie Chicks about President Bush), you will experience backlash.  People protesting what you say is *NOT* abridging your freedom of speech, just as a company suspending you for publicly saying ignorant things is not abridging your freedom of speech.

Finally, I have to say that the more I hear from the far right and the more of their fulminations I read, the further away I am driven, as I suspect are other people.  I do not know about anyone else, but I get very tired of all of the whining and complaining that is constantly being heard from that corner of the world.  Not everything is a conspiracy against their narrow-minded views of God or the world.  Sometimes, people say stupid things and get punished for them.  Nothing more, nothing less.