Duck Dynasty–Free Speech is not Absolute

Dear Dwonna:

What do you think about what the Duck Dynasty guy said about gay people? Doesn’t the First Amendment protect people from saying what they want to say?


What happened to “Freedom of Speech”?


Dear “What happened to ‘Freedom of Speech’”?

No, we do not have an absolute right to free speech, which is why it is illegal for someone to yell “Fire!” in a crowded—or not so crowded—movie theatre. Remember the Harvard University student who this week was charged with calling in a bomb threat in order to avoid taking his final exam in his “GOV 1368: The Politics of American Education” course? He faces five years in prison and a $250,000 fine; the First Amendment does not protect folks who threaten to do harm to other people.

Moreover, “Freedom of Speech” does not mean freedom from consequences or repercussions, and public figures should know this better than most. I must often chide my college students when I see their inappropriate Facebook posts, as I don’t want their drunken party pictures or naked selfies to be a barrier from them getting the job they want in the future. I often tell these students that before they post something to Facebook or Twitter or Instagram that they should ask themselves: “Is Dr. Goldstone going to call me into her office and yell at me?”

A friend of a former student asked that we “consider the source” because Phil Robertson is “backwater bred” and that “Honey Boo Boo probably has more intelligence” than the entire Duck Dynasty clan. The problem with this logic is that not only do many, many millions of people watch Duck Dynasty (yours truly is not among them) but also because Robertson’s supporters perhaps now feel more comfortable spewing their hate in public forums like Facebook and Twitter. “God put him where he is so that his voice could be heard,” I read on the Facebook wall of someone I used to like and respect. It is very hard for me to continue respecting someone who agrees with Robertson’s views on homosexuality.

Let me be clear on this. When Phil Robertson is quoted as saying: “a vagina—as a man—would be more desirable than a man’s anus” and “But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical,” he is NOT speaking God’s word. I will never understand people who profess to be Christians saying and/or writing ANYTHING that could harm another person. Is this really what Jesus wants HIS followers to do? Do these Christians really believe that Jesus—a man who spent a great deal of his time with prostitutes, lepers, and other outcasts of society—wants his “followers” to use His name to spread hate and judgment? Is Jesus happier that people like Phil Robertson say things that will make gay people think that they are an abomination who are on the highway to hell? Is Jesus happier that Phil Robertson widens the divide between believers and non-believers?

I imagine that Jesus weeps for those who use His name to spread the Duck Dynasty brand of Christianity. No matter what Phil Robertson, Duck Dynasty, and his supporters say, I will continue to believe that we are here on Earth to spread love and to bring good will to one another, and we have a responsibility to perform acts of kindness each and every day. Phil Robertson and his Duck Dynasty Clan have the right to say whatever they want because the First Amendment gives them “freedom of speech,” but his “freedom of speech” is not absolute. What I hope that Phil Robertson has taught us is that people of all faiths (and those of no faith at all) should do that which makes the world better. As Mother Theresa said, “Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.” This, my dear friends, should be for what we all strive with each person we encounter and in each day we live.

An Open Letter to Phil Robertson

Dear Mr. Robertson:

I won’t call you Phil, like everyone else does, because I do not know you personally. This is in the same way that you do not know me personally; however, that did not stop you from making a blanket statement about me and those like me. I’m talking about gays, not terrorists (just one group to which you equated us).

My name is Blake Haney. I was born and raised in Tennessee. I’m not just someone shouting about what you said just because I read about it on Facebook. I am someone who used to watch your show, though I have not watched it since the dispute with A&E over how much money to pay you and your family. I bought family members Duck Dynasty merchandise even after I stopped watching, but that ends today.

Growing up, I enjoyed hunting with my dad. I wasn’t avid. I wasn’t good at it either. I just enjoyed spending time with my father on the water. Waders, camo, guns…duck calls. I own one duck call. It was my dad’s, and I have held on to it for years. He even checks in every now and again to make sure I still have it. Sometimes, I’ll pull it out of the box, and I’ll call just to hear the sound. It’s a classic Duck Commander call. Funny how you were part of my life at an early age, and I never even knew.

Today, I am at a different place in my life. After years of battling, I’ve finally accepted myself for whom God made me to be—gay. I have found a church that is accepting and loving, and I have accepted a calling to help young LGBT people find their place within the church. God loves them just as much as He loves you. You had an opportunity to use your platform for greater good. Instead, you singled out a group that fights tooth and nail just to have what you talk so much about on your show: family.

Comments such as yours bring young people to their knees. They’re praying without seeing change. They’re trying, and they are failing. Instead of going on, they are choosing to end it. To say that I didn’t consider using the shotgun I had used to hunt with my father to end my own life would be a lie. Thankfully, I was able to push forward.

Your words have meaning, sir, and you must take accountability for them. I don’t care from what generation you are a product. You are old enough to know better. As one of my former professors used to tell me, “Blame your parents for the way you are. Blame yourself for the way you’ve stayed.” It’s okay to have an opinion, but make sure it’s an educated one. Critically read your Bible. Befriend an openly gay person, and ask questions. Grow.


Blake Haney

My pet just died, so what do I do?

Dear Dwonna:

Last week, I had to put my 10-year-old cat to sleep after the vet and I did everything we could to save her, and I grieve so deeply for her. She was my friend and my companion, and my apartment feels so empty without her. Yesterday, I went on the humane society’s website and saw a very cute kitten that I would like to adopt. My heart says he and I both need love. What do I do?


Just Give Me a Reason


Dear “Just Give Me a Reason”:

First, let me say just how sorry I am for your loss. I am an animal person, and now that two of my dogs are more than 10 years old, I worry about the day when I might have to make that decision for them. When I had to put my 12-year-old black lab Langston Hughes to sleep five years ago, I told my mom that if I did not have three other dogs that I would probably never get another dog. The pain was so great, and I deeply missed Langston. He was best friend who had helped get me through my PhD program at the University of Texas at Austin.

I have a friend who believes that our pets do not leave us until they know that we will be ok without them, and I’ve often thought this about Langston Hughes. He loved me even before I was in therapy, and he was with me when I moved to Clarksville and then to Nashville. When he died, I think he knew that I could get along without him especially since I had three other dogs at home to help take care of me. I’m certain your cat knows this about you, too.

Some people think that they should wait before they get another pet because they believe that they are being disloyal to their pet if they replace him too soon, or they think that they should fully grieve their lost pet before they bring another one into their lives. I would like to think that our pets want us to continue loving and that they don’t see a new pet as a replacement but rather a continuation of the love we had for them. We all have a reservation at some cemetery (or mausoleum or crematory) without benefit of cancelation, and before we die, we should love as many animals and as many people as we can. I imagine that you have a lot of love to give a new kitten, and adopting that kitten today will open up space for an animal tomorrow who might have otherwise been euthanized.

I’m going to end this with something I saw on Facebook this weekend, and although it was written about dogs, it can apply to the all animals we love.

 “God said I need somebody strong enough to pull sleds and find bombs, yet gentle enough to love babies and lead the blind. Somebody who will spend all day on a couch with a resting head and supportive eyes to lift the spirits of a broken heart, so God made a dog.”

 It’s never too soon to bring another cat into your home and into your life. Why miss an opportunity to love and be loved? 

A War on Christmas?

Dear Dwonna:

What do you think about those people who insist that there is a “War on Christmas” and that we should be saying “Merry CHRISTmas” and not “Happy Holidays”?


Put Christ Back in Christmas?


Dear “Put Christ Back in Christmas”:

I recently got into a Facebook “spat” with a woman I went to elementary school with over this very issue, and a former student accused me of condemning all Christians for the meme that appears at the bottom of this answer. After posting an article allegedly by Ben Stein that lambasted President Obama’s for changing the name of the White House Christmas tree to the White House Holiday Tree, I posted a link from that explained that Ben Stein never wrote this article and that this hoopla over the name change was kind of made up. My grade school friend then told me it was only because of “political correctness” that people were saying “Happy holidays.” “It should be Merry CHRISTmas,” she wrote.

While many people profess to be Christians and argue that this is a “Christian nation” that was founded on “Christian values”—never mind that many of the Founding Fathers were deists—too many Americans do not behave in a “Christ-like” manner. Leading the charge to cut food stamps, judging the poor rather than helping them, and vehemently fighting against the Affordable Care Act (aka “Obamacare”) does not seem very Christ-like to me. I’m no Biblical scholar, but I do know that the Bible contains many passages about helping the sick and the poor. For example, Deuteronomy 15:10 reads: “Give generously to [them] and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to.” Proverbs 14:31 says, in part: “[W]hoever is kind to the needy honors God.”

Yes, there are toy drives and canned food drives and angel trees to help the needy during this holiday season, yet for many, the Christmas season is now a commodity—a time to give friends and family gifts we probably cannot afford and that they won’t even remember they have in two weeks. Thus, it is a bit disingenuous to argue about whether we say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays.” If we really want to continue this “War on Christmas,” then we should focus not on whether we say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” to each other but on how we treat each other each and every day of the year. The Christmas/holiday season should be about kindness, charity, love, and good will towards one another and not about what we call it.

%22Put Christ Back....%22

I’m coming out, I think….

Dear Dwonna,

 I want to come out to my family, but I am scared. I’ve already come out to a few friends, but my family is so important to me. I just want to feel supported. How should I come out?


 Scared and Nervous


Dear “Scared and Nervous”:

Dwonna loves to send me the LGBTQI questions, and I love answering them. This question is one that many people have been asked me many times. It’s an enormous step, coming out as the person you’ve always been. Part of coming out is explaining that very fact to the people who love and care about you. You are still the person they’ve always known and loved.

There is not one way to come out. I know people who have had sit-down, face-to-face discussions with their families. I know people who have made videos. I know people who have blurted it out at the dinner table because they couldn’t take the tension and the anxiety any more. I had already tried coming out when I was 17, and I allowed my parents to believe that my attraction to men was a phase that I could pray my way out of. In 2009, I came out to my middle sister, and three years later I came out to my oldest one, just a few months before my parents. My friends were getting married and having children, and I knew my family was waiting for me. However, I was waiting on something different, but really, it was something very much the same. It was just with someone of the same gender.

So, after years of trying to make it work with the “right girl,” I chose to write my parents a letter. I did this mainly because I knew I would cry, and I wanted to be clear and precise. At 25, though, it was time. I was preparing to move from the comforts of Austin Peay and Clarksville back to my parents’ home in Chattanooga, and I wanted to return to them and to the city as a free person. I wrote my truth, stuck a stamp on the envelope, and sent it into the unknown. I knew that my parents loved me. In fact, I had always known that, but they raised their family in an independent Baptist church, and I was worried that they’d support the church’s beliefs over me.

It was a Monday afternoon when my parents received that letter. My heart almost exploded when I saw a text from my mom. She responded positively, but in her usual brevity that I have come to love: “Got your letter. I love you. Good night.” Dad was the one I was most nervous to hear from. His text came on Tuesday; it was a beautiful response: “You are my son. My love for you is deeper than any ocean. I will call you later.” I will never forget their kindness and gentleness for accepting me for whom I am.

I want to be clear, though. Not everyone is as lucky as I was. Some people experience pain and heartbreak as a result of coming out. I want you to remember that we, as a community, are here for you, and we sometimes have to become a family all our own. However, we also have allies who are there for us, too, and don’t forget to lean on those friends who you have already told. You’ll remember the moment you came out to your family for the rest of your life, and you will feel free just like I did no matter how it turns out. 

Good luck!

Help me, please!

Dear Dwonna:

My girlfriend and I broke up about three weeks ago. We have been off and on (mostly on) for three years, and although she’s a perfectly nice girl, I just don’t see her in my long-term future. I’m only 23 and still have a year of college left, so I’m not ready to settle down. She is, though, and she desperately wants to be a wife and mother. We still talk a few times/week, and she came home with me for Thanksgiving and is planning to come home with me for Christmas. Is it wrong to stay so connected with her? Did I do the right thing when I broke up with her?


Bewildered & Confused


Dear “Bewildered & Confused”:

You’re a 23-year-old male, and you are wise to recognize that you’re not yet ready to be a husband and father. I understand, too, your desire to stay connected with your now ex-girlfriend especially since you have been with her for three years. However, it is time to disconnect from her, and I would encourage you to do this cold turkey. Immediately. I imagine that she continues this “relationship” with you because she is hoping that you will change your mind, but it’s not really fair to lead her to believe that this is a possibility. I know that love sometimes makes us do irrational things, but the fact is that it is irrational to stay so connected with someone with whom you do not see a future. The purpose of dating is to ascertain whether someone is a match—not to see if you’ll look good in a tuxedo and she in a wedding dress—and since you’ve determined that your former girlfriend is not, please let her go. Believe in kismet, and perhaps in a few years when you’re older and wiser and more settled, you two will cross paths again. But, for now, it’s time to let her go so that she can find someone who is ready to settle down.