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?

 Signed,

What happened to “Freedom of Speech”?

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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.

Sincerely,

Blake Haney