Free Speech

What Free speech is and isn't

Images used to make a point. They are not used to represent any connection with any of the pictured groups or companies, so please don’t sue me.

A friend asked me to expand on some comments I made on Facebook here. As loath as I am to engage in the ongoing battles of the culture wars (a war in which positively everyone loses, I might add), I feel the need to mention one thing. What is happening to Phil is free speech. What he said he said of his own free will, what A&E did they did of their own free will, what the show’s viewers do (whether that number is larger or smaller a month from now) they will do of their own free will. There are no government-sponsored jackbooted thugs who are empowered to enforce the will of GLAAD, nor are there pernicious masterminds with their own craven views of culture driving this whole fiasco. This is just people speaking, and people choosing to respond to that speech.

He said, broadly, that he believes in that section of Leviticus that says that homosexuality is an abomination, that he believes it is treated by the Bible as akin to bestiality, that religions that do not follow Jesus Christ are inferior to religions that do and that those religions/cultures (he appears to conflate the two) promote violence and cultural chaos. I don’t agree with him, personally, in fact I vehemently disagree, but I still feel it necessary to fairly and soberly represent what he said. So, there you have it.

A more coherent and topical discussion of our free speech rights and what threatens them can and should start, though. There are a few areas where the frontiers of these rights are being explored with case law, legislation, and questionably-legal or even explicitly illegal actions. People are and have been talking about things like radio censorship (by which I mean the FCC ‘bleeping’ things or having them ‘bleeped,’ not voluntary boycotts to speech that some dislike) and prosecuting hate speech for basically my entire life, and should keep talking about these things until we find a solution most or all of us can live with. We should also have a national conversation about why we think it’s okay to use pepper spray on peaceful college demonstrations or Occupy sit-ins, or why we feel it’s okay for the NSA to monitor our private conversations without any due process or transparent mechanism of law. We should have these conversations, but if things like Duck Dynasty occupy the bulk of our cultural landscape and news media air time, I doubt we ever will.

What makes me mad about this isn’t just the conversations we’ll never have and the related, much-more-important topics we’re not talking about, it’s also opportunism. For instance, my state’s Governor Bobby Jindal has said some silly things about free speech and whatnot as a response to this. I understand why he spoke up, and it’s really very simple. Duck Dynasty is filmed in Monroe, Louisiana and is highly lucrative. Gov. Jindal has been courting the film industry for at least four years, and wants their business. That A&E might end the show or take actions that imperil its future hurts Louisiana economically and Gov. Jindal politically, then. So, we have his comments. I’m sure he knows they are ridiculous, and most everyone who knows anything about law or common sense knows they are ridiculous, but still he said them. He said them not because they are true, but because this is an opportunity and a risk for him. It is an opportunity to court the Evangelical vote that he sorely needs for re-election (though at this point this may be a pointless exercise for him), and it’s a threat to the economic health of north Lousiana and the Louisiana film industry in general. His comments don’t come then from a place of good policy, responsible governance or common sense, but from political opportunism and fear. I find those to be deplorable reasons for an elected official to speak, and that his behavior will not only be condoned but rewarded makes me even more mad. But that’s the state of politics today, sadly. Both ‘sides’ in this faux dichotomy we call American political life do it with approximately equal efficacy, and will continue to do so until they stop winning elections and making money (in legal donations, mind) that way. Until we a an electorate stop rewarding that behavior, it will continue, and I’m sad to say I don’t see that ending any time soon either.

Gee, this entry is much more depressing than my original Facebook post. I guess that’s the cycle of things, though. Five hours ago I was angry, now I’m just tired and disappointed.

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