Duck, Duck, Goose; The First Amendement and Duck Dynasty

Photo: ci.berkeley.ca.us
Photo: ci.berkeley.ca.us

I’ve been living outside of the US for five years.  In those five years I’ve gone from keeping up with popular television shows (we ‘borrowed’ the last season of Lost from the internet—don’t worry, we gave it back….) to where I am now; the fringe edge of American popular culture.  We watch American television, but we are forced to pick and chose what we watch.  When you are paying iPrices for a series, you don’t watch just anything.  Because of geographical distance, time zone limitations, prohibitive cost issues and sometimes just plain disinclination, I’m removed from a lot of current popular culture.  This means I’m sometimes caught off guard.

Like this Duck Dynasty brouhaha.

(For others like me who don’t know a Duck Dynasty from a Carrington Dynasty, Duck Dynasty is a reality television program which focuses on a family who own a very successful company which produces duck hunting products; hence the title.)

Let me begin by saying I have never seen the show. In fact, the first time I even heard mention of the show was during the World Series when I began to see many of my Boston bound Facebook friends sporting fake ZZ top-esque beards.  Even then I had to Google what the hell Duck Dynasty was to have a clue as to what was going on.  Now suddenly my Facebook feed and blog reader are littered with blogs and bloggers who are ‘standing up for the first amendment, all because the private cable company which airs the reality show has decided to suspend one of the show’s stars for views he expressed in a magazine.

For real?

Photo: randomhouse.com
Photo: randomhouse.com

Don’t underestimate my stance.  I am well aware that the underlying issue which is whipping up a duck frenzy is not the fact that a favorite character may or may not make an appearance on the next season of a reality television program.  What is getting the uproar up and roaring is that some people feel it is wrong for A&E, the channel which airs the program, to make a decision based on the religious and personal views of an individual.  The shouts from the rooftop seem to be that Phil Robertson’s suspension from a reality television show somehow infringes upon his First Amendment right as an American to ‘freedom of speech’.  I don’t claim to be a constitutional law expert, nor have I ever played one on tv, but it seems to me the wrong end of the amendment stick is being waggled about here.

No one is censoring Phil Robertson’s speech.  As far as I’ve read, GQ is planning on going ahead with his interview.  Mr. Robertson is free to express his views anywhere he pleases, including in an assembly of his choice.  He hasn’t been arrested for expressing his views.  He is not rotting in jail or facing trial for expressing those views.  No one is stopping Mr. Robertson from voicing his political or religious beliefs.  He is free to sound off about whatever he pleases, be it duck hunting paraphernalia or gay marriage.  Which he did.  Perhaps because of those views, a private company, not a government-funded channel, which airs a reality show he appears on, has suspended his contract.

In my house, we call those natural consequences.

We go to great pains to teach our children that certain words are to be avoided or used with caution.  Curse words, four letter words, words laden with racial and ethnic significance.  We teach our children that words are heavy with meaning and history.  We teach our children to respect differences.  We teach them that if you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything at all.  My husband and I aim to teach our children that words are not inherently ‘good’ or ‘bad’.  Words are words.  Most of us, however, have the intellectual capacity to understand the power behind words; we understand that speaking or writing them boost that power.  If you are mature enough and aware enough to use certain words, to say certain things, you had better be mature enough to handle the consequences.  If you call someone a disparaging name, it is going to sting.  Call someone ugly, or fat, or stupid—anything that is offensive to their own views of themselves—and you need to be ready to deal with the consequences.

Photo: kidport.com
Photo: kidport.com

Some people believe that A&E has prohibited Mr. Robertson’s right to earn a living because of non politically correct views.  As far as I can tell, Mr. Robertson has a very successful company which predated his appearance on a reality television show.  Americans are not guaranteed the right to earn money on a reality show.  Nowhere in the Bill of Rights does it outline the freedom to commercially prostitute your life on camera.  Was A&E right to suspend him?  I am sure it was within their rights to do so.  I am guessing that before they made any decision, A&E consulted hundreds of their thousands of in-house counsel attorneys to make sure they wouldn’t/couldn’t/shouldn’t be sued. Whether or not I personally agree with their decision is moot.  What I vehemently disagree with is the anti-free speech rhetoric that is being bandied about and the hypocrisy that surrounds it.

A few years ago, a popular country musician spoke out against the Bush administration.  Something similar happened then, but with one big difference.  The backlash was swift.  Radio stations were deluged with calls from listeners who demanded the station stop playing music by the band because of their Anti-American sentiment. Somehow freedom of speech didn’t apply there–because it was anti-American.  The very thing the First Amendment was written to protect–to voice a dissenting voice against the government without fear of reprisal–didn’t seem to be applicable.  Irony, you fickle demon.

The constitution is not an all you can eat buffet.  You don’t get to pick and chose your way around the Bill of Rights. You can’t stand by the ones you like and then call for the abolition of the ones you don’t.  You can’t proclaim that one person is being denied their right to free speech and then call for the banning of books you find offensive with another.  I am about as anti-gun, pro-regulation as you can get.  I think the Second Amendment is often twisted and misconstrued, almost never taken in the spirit in which is was meant.   And even I worry about fiddling with the Second Amendment too much, because once you start fiddling, it is a slippery slope.  The First Amendment is in place to protect you against speaking out against an overreaching government.  But it is not absolute, and it doesn’t come into play in this instance.  It is there to protect against tyranny, not protect you from idiocy.

Mr. Robertson was likely suspended for views some found offensive.  Was A&E pandering? Possibly, but that’s how change is wrought over time.  That’s the thing, you get to say what you want, but you can’t act surprised when someone calls you out on it.  His rights were not infringed upon.  He is not being called out because he is a Christian.  Or a duck hunter.  Or because he is anti-gay or pro-beard.  He is being called out because he said something that pissed someone else, or a bunch of someone elses off.

Natural consequences.

There have been blogs out there that have had millions of views and likes and shares because they believe that Mr. Robertson’s rights have violated.  I am here to voice a discerning opinion.  I don’t think I’m alone, but even if I am, I am okay with that.  But I am here to ask this of you:

Don’t make Duck Dynasty or Phil Robertson a martyr to a cause.  Don’t use a reality television program to highlight what is or isn’t wrong with America.

To do so is to sully and degrade what the Constitution really stands for.

After all, if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it probably is a duck.

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12 thoughts on “Duck, Duck, Goose; The First Amendement and Duck Dynasty

  1. stephrogers December 20, 2013 / 5:36 pm

    *huge standing ovation* this is exactly perfect. Thank you

    Like

    • dhonour December 20, 2013 / 5:41 pm

      Thank you! I got rather riled up by it earlier. Now, if only I too could get a million shares! Surely there’s got to be a million other people out there that feel this way–please?! Tell me it’s true!

      Like

      • stephrogers December 23, 2013 / 1:21 am

        I wish you all the best with that. This message deserves all the shares in the world.

        Like

  2. lexborgia December 20, 2013 / 6:23 pm

    I think when you have Bobby ‘the sleeping tablet’ Jindal, the likes of Sarah Palin and Fox News clamouring to take the wheel of your homophobic derogatory bandwagon, then you can be sure something is seriously amiss. The religious right is doing what they do best – hating. God is on their side.

    Like

    • dhonour December 20, 2013 / 8:50 pm

      I am ashamed/relieved to say I really don’t know much about Bobby Jindal. Sarah Palin….well, honestly, how can anyone actually take her seriously. It just bothers me that this has become a religious cum patriotic rally call. I have no problem with anyone speaking their mind, even if I don’t agree with them (and there are plenty of people I don’t agree with). But don’t hide behind a misguided view of the First Amendment. I may not look like your average patriotic American, and I think there is a lot (really a lot) about the US that needs fixing, but at the end of the day, I’m still an American. And I take my founding documents seriously. The true Christians I know would never malign someone for their own choices. They were raised better than that.

      Like

  3. hereswhatsgoingon December 20, 2013 / 9:01 pm

    Very well stated. I especially like the sentence “You can’t proclaim that one person is being denied their right to free speech and then call for the banning of books you find offensive with another.” I suspect it’s the same people rallying around “free speech” in here who are still challenging students having access to Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, and a very sweet children’s book about two male penguins who try to hatch an egg together. Not completely the same thing, but still….

    Like

    • dhonour December 20, 2013 / 9:24 pm

      I love that penguin book. The first time I read it, I thought how sweet, and then I found out it was a true story! How can you be against a true penguin story? It boggles the mind. That’s what gets my goat up with this story. I have the sneaking suspicion it’s the very same people who decry anti-American anti-conservative sentiment, but cry foul when something like this happens. And I didn’t even get going on the whole First Amendment freedom from the establishment of a national religion aspect, which lots of people like to conveniently ‘forget’. As I said to someone else, I take the constitution seriously. Don’t use it for frivolity, it’s demeaning.

      Like

  4. Twindaddy December 20, 2013 / 11:04 pm

    You’re right. His rights weren’t violated. I, however, still think it’s BS that your personal opinions and beliefs have any bearing on your employment. I, as well as every other American (or any other world citizen, for that matter) should be allowed to express my opinions without fear of reprisal from my employer. Our opinions and beliefs have no impact on how we perform our jobs. A&E could have easily came out and denounced Phil’s idiotic opinions instead of suspending him. Neither I, nor Phil, nor anyone else should be forced to adhere to our companies beliefs if our beliefs don’t coincide. And we shouldn’t have to censor ourselves for if they don’t, either. As long as you’re not damaging the brand, I don’t think there’s any justification for this type of action.

    To be perfectly clear, I disagree with everything Phil had to say. I don’t think A&E was justified in suspending him, though. And now the religious right is pouncing all over this.

    Like

    • dhonour December 21, 2013 / 10:14 am

      I’m not so sure. What if someone is a member of the Neo-Nazi party? What if their beliefs systematically oppress another portion of society? While that is within their ‘right’ to belong to such a group and certainly hold those beliefs, is it the duty of an employer to ignore those beliefs? I agree that no one should be discriminated against on the basis a religious affiliation, but if you chose to make public comments, be it in the media or on the internet (which is all the public sphere) then it is well within the rights of an organization to sever ties. Some would even say it is the duty of the organization. What seems to be getting people in an uproar over this ‘Christian-bashing’. What about Paula Deen using the word ‘nigger’? No one stood up demanding she be afforded the rights of free speech. If you go to work and march into your superior’s office and call them names, it’s most likely not going to go down very well. So again, the Bill of Rights affords you the privilege of speaking your thoughts and being free from persecution (from the government). But it doesn’t protect you against going out and doing something that may not be in your best interests.

      Like

      • Twindaddy December 22, 2013 / 3:23 pm

        Well, there’s a difference between expressing your opinions and oppression.

        As far as the duty of the employer to ignore those beliefs, they are required by law to ignore an employee’s religious beliefs. They cannot make any decisions about employees based on their religious beliefs.

        Like

  5. Jessamine in PDX January 12, 2014 / 8:12 pm

    Yes! It drives me so crazy when people bring up the free speech thing but are quite clearly missing the point. This post is spot-on!

    Like

    • dhonour January 23, 2014 / 10:32 am

      Sorry I missed this comment earlier, and apologies for delay in responding! Thanks, I think for those that missed the point in this case, it wasn’t so much a question of swinging at and missing, but being in a different ballpark when you took the swing. (I can’t believe I used a sports metaphor there, but it seemed to work). Thanks again.

      Like

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