Why the Duck Dynasty Dust-Up Is Not About Freedom of Speech (and why Christians should stop saying so).
UPDATE*** This post has received MUCH publicity in the last two days. JD is discussing this very article on his radio program and podcast, The Pulpit and Pen Program, on Monday (12/23/13). You can find links to this podcast (and to subscribe) under “The Program” tab. Also, if you would like updates from this collaborative blog, please click the link on the home page that says, “Become a Pulpiteer.”
A&E “fired” Phil Robertson for speaking his mind, articulating a worldview that clashes with the worldview of those operating the cable network. Technically, A&E didn’t fire an “employee,” but chose to suspend their relationship with a contractor. It appears that the rest of the Duck Dynasty cast (the Robertson clan) are choosing not to continue their contract with A&E without their father. This controversy is about a number of things, but it’s not about “free speech.”
There are lots of reasons to be upset at A&E, including the following:
1. A&E chose to fight what they believe is ‘homophobia’ by becoming anti-religious bigots.
2. A&E decided that the gay-lobby is more to be feared than 14 million angry rednecks.
3. Instead of letting advertisers decide if they wanted to deal with potential gay-lobby boycotts, they decided to preemptively cancel the show (no one really expected the Robertson boys to continue without Phil).
4. A&E clearly articulated their view that there is no place for diversity in the national conversation. In doing so, they also castigated the views of millions of Americans who share Phil’s convictions.
And yet, free speech issues are not among the reasons to be upset at A&E.
Bobby Jindal, Sarah Palin and about a thousand other Christians in my Twitter feed all seem to share the same conviction; “firing” Phil Robertson (IE choosing not to do business with him) was a violation of his right to free speech. Jindal, Palin, and about a thousand Christians in my Twitter feed are wrong.
When Martin Bashir recently lost his job for exercising his right of free speech to say certain things about Sarah Palin, conservatives applauded. It was not a violation of his free speech for CNN to fire him. His free speech was going to hurt their bottom line. And for A&E to decide (foolishly, I think) that Phil Robertson’s free speech is going to hurt their bottom line (or contradict their own conscience), they have a right to end their contract with him.
Let’s re-read the Constitution to clarify that none of Robertson’s First Amendment rights were violated…
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
Neither Congress nor A&E has violated Robertson’s constitutional or civil rights. Neither has prohibited Phil from freely exercising his speech or religion, peaceful assembly, or petition. Phil Robertson is free to say whatever he wants to say. A&E, as a private business owned by private citizens, is free to contract anyone they want to do business with – or to cancel that said contract. It doesn’t matter whether A&E is a multimillion dollar company or a Mom & Pop taco stand – the United States Supreme Court has ruled that how a company chooses to spend its money is an expression of their free speech.
From 1819 onward, the high courts have consistently ruled that corporations enjoy the same rights as the citizens that own them, in rulings from Trustees of Woodward College vs Dartmouth (1819) to Citizens United vs Federal Election Commission (2010). Simply put, it would be unjust that A&E be forced to do business with someone if it violates their conscience. For A&E to have to continue a contract with Phil Robertson if the disagree with his views, it would violate their First Amendment freedoms.
For example, a Colorado judge recently ruled that a Christian baker must make a wedding cake for a homosexual marriage even if it violates his conscience. This is a prime example of First Amendment rights being violated. He is free, according to the laws of God, Nature, and the United States Constitution to not do business with someone who holds views or practices that he disagrees with. The Christian baker may be guilty of a conscientious discrimination, but not a legal discrimination. The same is true for A&E in every conceivable way.
So if this story isn’t about violation of Phil Robertson’s free speech, what is it about? This story is about the degradation and depravity of American culture. It’s about the willful waste of common sense. This story is about hypocrisy from those who cry for tolerance and plead for diversity. This story is about the growing unpopularity of a biblical worldview. This story is about the increasing strength of a lobby formed by a tiny fraction of the population that holds the majority captive. This story (in just a few weeks) will be about an formerly-outraged pseudo-Christian culture that will be lulled to sleep and stop caring about it because our attention span is weaker than our conscience. This story is about the growing power of the thought-police and the ostracization that occurs if one strays from group-think. This story is about Christians who were so happy that “we” (evangelicals) were being welcomed back into entertainment culture vicariously through Duck Dynasty and are now shocked to discover that darkness hates the light and that Christians won’t be welcomed at the cool table for very long.
But what this story is not about is the freedom of speech.
What this story needs to be about is a family from Louisiana that enjoyed all the world had to offer and lost the very vehicle of that fame for preaching more truth than Hollywood could handle…and when they lost it, they rejoiced that they still had Jesus. The Robertsons being content in their situation (and Christians not freaking out about the loss of the program) will make God look magnified, glorified and a better prize than fortune and fame.
What the Robertsons need to articulate is that their television show and indeed all of their earthly wealth should be counted as loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus, their Lord.