Pesky Freedom of Speech

In my life, I’ve seen maybe one full episode of Duck Dynasty. It’s a well-made show about people I couldn’t give a crap about, doing something I am not interested in, and having fun doing it.

Suffice to say, I didn’t feel compelled to watch it again. I can see how it is entertaining if you either understand them and think their success is compelling, or if you are completely flabbergasted by their way of life and don’t understand their success at all. I think I “get” the show and the people and I don’t find their success surprising or compelling.

So then this whole Phil Robertson thing blows up.

People Think Bad Things.

The man said things that are at best polarizing, at worst hateful, and on the whole fairly offensive to many, many people (myself included). I have a lot of thoughts about this, but the backlash is the biggest thing I find interesting.

Most certainly, it was unwise to say what he said for him personally. A&E is well within their rights to suspend or fire any person who might use their platform for speech that they find distasteful in any way – and given the demographics of their audience, they have no choice but to find his comments distasteful at best. The action they’ve taken is in no way unjust – and they have no legal obligation to preserve his right to speak those thoughts, at least through their channel.

However, he does have that freedom. Nobody has to publish it. Nobody has to (or should, I’d argue) read it. But we cannot take away his right to say it. Write it. Shout it.

That way lies madness. That way lies censorship. Book burning. Thought Police. Imprisonment of those who don’t think what We the People (read: government officials and law enforcement) want them to think.

Freedom of Speech must be defended. That’s point one.

People Are Inconsistent.

For a very long time, the Boy Scouts of America did not allow openly gay members. Their policy has very recently changed – and that change led to the creation of the Trail Life USA organization, whose membership policy will continue to ban openly gay people from membership and leadership.

We can disagree with the sentiment and logic. I don’t think it’s right to exclude somebody from membership of an organization based on their sexual orientation. But it is well within their rights as a private organization to include or exclude anybody they want for any reason they choose.

Now, I’m guessing that Bobby Jindal would defend Trail Life USA’s right to exclude homosexuals from membership right up until his Presidential campaign goes into full gear. And yet, he suggests that A&E should give Phil Robertson a platform from which to speak his views, and that not to do so would be unconstitutional.

You can’t have it both ways, folks. That’s point two.

People’s Beliefs are Irrational

We like to think of ourselves as a country of freedom. We have those freedoms enumerated in the amendments to our Constitution – freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom to bear arms, and rights of privacy.

Which is almost entirely at odds with so many of the original Colonists’ reasons for coming here: many of them were being pushed from their home countries because they were so adamant about their religious beliefs (and imposing them on others), that they became unwelcome in their home societies.

The Puritan establishment that predated the founding of our country was a highly controlling religious state that most famously culminated in literal witch trials.

Yet, the Puritans also established free public schooling and were extremely interested in the advancement of science. All the while, banning dancing, music, and poetry from their society.

Beliefs are irrational. Beliefs are what lead Puritans to stop dancing. Beliefs are what let Bobby Jindal defend the Freedom of Speech by assaulting the Freedom of Speech.

Beliefs will let well-educated, art- and science-loving people to convince themselves, if only for a moment, that they should somehow forcibly remove Phil Robertson’s Freedom of Speech, because his sensibilities offend them.

Be careful that what you believe leads you to what is right. That’s point three.

Garbage In, Beauty Out

People can and will say stupid, mean, offensive stuff. We must allow them to do so – because otherwise we will censor and stifle the thinkers, philosophers, artists, and dreamers who dare to think differently than the rest of us.

Phil Robertson’s opinions aren’t all that different from your stereotypical Conservative Evangelical Christian – but if we take away his right to say things we don’t agree with, then we’ll be taking away the right of the next Martin Luther King, Jr. to tell us about his dream. Because I can tell you – there were an awful lot of people who thought that dream sounded more like a nightmare.

Phil’s probably one of them. But I choose to believe in the dream. He can have the nightmare.

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