Free Speech and Duck Calls

By Kersley Fitzgerald

So, Phil Robertson, the patriarch of the Duck Dynasty clan, in an interview in GQ magazine, expressed his Bible-based beliefs about homosexuality. A&E, the network that airs Duck Dynasty immediately responded by firing him. A wave of support roared across America, defending the bearded leader and his views.

And his rights of free speech.

Most of the arguments I've seen center around that idea of free speech. He had the right, the constitutional right, to express his beliefs.

Absolutely and amen.

While researching for another article, I've become slightly more educated in the concept of "free speech." I had a hard time understanding how a TV show plot or burning a flag could be protected under free speech.

It turns out that free speech doesn't just mean you can say whatever you want. It means you can express your beliefs through the medium of your choice, provided it doesn't break other laws, such as assault or vandalism. So burning a flag as a symbol of your disappointment with the actions of a nation is covered under free speech because you're not actually bombing that nation's leadership into oblivion; you're using a metaphor.

But/however, the right to free speech does not protect you from other repercussions. Depending on the contract Phil Robertson signed, A&E had the right to terminate his employment if his speech didn't line up with their internal standards — in this case, their socio/political agenda. Firing the man does nothing to take away his right to free speech; A&E is merely taking away their microphone from his lips. Which is their right.

Now, I do believe that his firing was cowardly, but it wasn't unconstitutional.

The hoopla over the whole thing highlights some defining characteristics of the culture, but nothing that should surprise us. The Christian culture and American culture are becoming increasingly different. We aren't going to change that; we just need to deal with it. For more, I once again direct you to DownShoreDrift.

I have a young friend, mother of 5, who is ultra-conservative, wife of a Marine, full-on God and country. She also speaks her mind fearlessly. So when she posted a response to the debacle on Facebook, I suspected she would be giving her undivided support to the Duckman.

To my surprise, she didn't. While she supported his beliefs and his rights (and even responsibility) to share them with the audience God had given him, she roundly criticized the speech he used as crass, vulgar, and inappropriate. She finished with "It's called having wisdom of when to hold your tongue and the discipline to actually do it. It's called being an adult."

I thought that was an excellent point. I don't watch Duck Dynasty so I really couldn't say if the words he used in his interview were typical, but were they kind? Were they considerate? While I don't think Mr. Robertson was trying to deliberately be offensive, his choice of terminology does seem careless.

While many around us clamor for rights — of speech or religion or what have you — we need to remember that Jesus mandated that others have the right to expect things from His believers. Namely that we speak in love (Ephesians 4:15), that we act in self-sacrifice (Matthew 5:20-42), that we stop being surprised when we're obnoxious and the world reacts (1 Peter 2:20). And that we don't act surprised when we find the world is against us. As DownShoreDrift says:
People are going to disagree with you. They are not going to like you. They are going to call you names and be unfair. Grow up. Get some thicker skin. Get used to it. This world is not your home.

*Update*: For another excellent take on things, see here.

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Originally published 12-20-13; updated 12-31-13