Thursday, December 19, 2013

Free Speech and All That

If you've been paying attention the past few days, you've probably seen the story about the Duck Dynasty guy getting canned for making some incredibly inflammatory comments about the gay community. The comments were made in an interview with GQ Magazine, and immediately blew up across the internet. Within 24 hours, the guy was cut from the show, and supporters of both sides came out in force to show solidarity.

As you can imagine, the whole thing has turned into a major media debacle, with folks like Sarah Palin claiming the comments are protected by free speech rights and that the Duck guy should be able to say whatever he wants without condemnation.

Originally, I wasn't going to write about this. I've never seen the show, and the story doesn't really interest me. What the guy said upsets me, and I don't agree with him, but I also respect that he has a right to say it.

The reason I am writing about it, though, is because of something a co-worker said. He pointed out that all this backlash, the guy losing his spot on the show, and the subsequent debates and discussions have done nothing to limit his free speech, take away his rights, or violate the First Amendment.

"Go read the First Amendment. Go look it up. It doesn't say anything about a person being protected from consequences for saying what he says." So, naturally, I looked it up. Here's the text:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

There it is. Now, this guy from the TV show has every right to say what he wants. So do the rest of us. But the television company has the right to fire him for it. People have the right to be upset about it. Nowhere in the First Amendment does it say that a person is protected from the consequences of their actions or from criticism for their beliefs. It states that Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech or prohibiting the free exercise thereof (I've reworded it for clarity). Congress has made no law that restricts this man's free speech. Nor has Congress acted to prohibit him from saying what he said. He has operated well within his rights, and so has everyone else.

The argument coming from those who support the Duck Dynasty franchise state that this man has had his rights violated. I can't for the life of me figure out what they mean. They say he is protected by the First Amendment. I agree, but I don't understand why they are pointing this out when he is not facing a situation that could arguably involve the First Amendment.

And just as he has the right to say what he wants, I and everyone else in this country has the right to say what we want. So, if I want to say that I believe that man to be a bigoted, ignorant hick who hasn't got enough sense to fill a cash register, I can do that. If I want to say that Sarah Palin is a brainless, loud-mouth pundit with no understanding of her own rhetorical irony, I can do that. It's all Free Speech.

Glad we cleared that up.

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