Phil Robertson, the 1st Amendment and Free Speech

December 20, 2013 § 1 Comment

As I wrap up the Griffintown book, and reach the end of what has been a decade-plus-long odyssey, I have begun work on a new research project that examines the far right of American politics and its relationship to history.  As such, I have spent a lot of time working with the US Constitution, its history, its interpretation, and its meaning.  Beginning with this post, I will be using this space to begin to hash out ideas for this project.

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So Phil Robertson is a homophobic bigot.  The Duck Dynasty patriarch was interviewed by GQ and when asked his definition of sinful behaviour responded “Start with homosexual behaviour and just morph out from there.”  Robertson is a deeply religious man.  So his beliefs, as deeply offensive as they are, aren’t all that surprising.

What has struck me is the firestorm on Twitter about Robertson, and the conservative backlash against his suspension from the show (not that it’ll matter, this season’s episodes are already filmed, the season starts in the spring and the long-term future of the show is up in the air).  From what I’ve seen on Twitter, Robertson’s bigotry is being framed as a 1st Amendment issue.  The argument I’ve seen on Twitter from rank and file “constitutional conservatives” is that A&E (the network that Duck Dynasty is on) and all the “libtards” (I suppose I’m one of them) are violating Robertson’s 1st Amendment rights.  Even Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has suggested Robertson’s constitutional rights are at stake.

They’re not.  At all.  The 1st Amendment reads as follows:

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.

In other words, the 1st Amendment is limited to government.  “Congress shall make no law…”, and the courts, up to and including the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) have consistently limited the alleged rights and freedoms the Bill of Rights gives to government, limiting the reach of government.  In other words, private corporations and private citizens are not bound by the 1st Amendment or any other of the Amendments that are part of the Bill of Rights.  So that takes care of that argument.

As for Bobby Jindal, when he says, “This is a free country, and everyone is entitled to express their views,” he is bang on correct.  But it has nothing to do with the Constitution or the Bill of Rights.  Robertson can expose his own bigotry any day of the week and six times on Sunday.  But Jindal’s argument is disingenuous at best.  His implication is that anyone who is opposed to Robertson’s ideas is stifling his right to speak his mind.  In other words, those who are appalled at Robertson’s comments to GQ are NOT entitled to their right to speak their minds.   Interesting, that.

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