Guy W. Farmer: Don’t just back freedoms you personally like
January 11, 2014
The First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Nevertheless, the Politically Correct Police (and you know who you are) recently tried to censor Phil Robertson, the patriarch of a popular cable TV reality show, for expressing controversial opinions about homosexuality and gay marriage.
The PC Police sprang into action immediately after Robertson condemned homosexuality and opposed gay marriage on biblical grounds. They demanded that the A&E Network take Robertson off the air, and the network suspended him shortly thereafter. There was a strong backlash from the Christian right, however, and the network decided to “resume filming ‘Duck Dynasty’ later this spring with the entire Robertson family,” including Phil.
Although I don’t agree with Robertson about homosexuality or gay marriage, I defend his First Amendment right to express unpopular opinions. I would compare his statements with those of “comedian” Bill Maher, who regularly advocates the legalization of hard drugs and makes fun of Christianity, much to the delight of his “progressive” audiences.
Although Maher’s audiences cheer when he says Christians are idiots, they’d boo Robertson off the stage if he expressed his opinions on Maher’s cable TV show. So where is the tolerance that progressives preach to the rest of us?
“Most Christian opponents of gay marriage … don’t oppose the right of gays to advocate it,” wrote conservative commentator Mark Steyn in National Review. “Yet thug groups like GLAAD increasingly oppose the right of Christians” to express their points of view on these controversial issues. A GLAAD spokesperson responded by accusing A&E of “choosing profits over African-Americans and gay people.”
“The debate over homosexuality and gay marriage is part of a much larger debate that includes everything from Obamacare … to school vouchers, federalism and the ‘wars’ on women, Christmas, trans fats and inequality,” added Steyn’s National Review colleague, Jonah Goldberg, who said that he’s a proud member of Edmund Burke’s “leave-me-alone coalition.” He argued that the Constitution gives us the freedom to express our opinions, no matter how unpopular they may be. The only thing we can’t do is to shout “Fire!” in a crowded theater or advocate the violent overthrow of the U.S. government.
Meanwhile, liberal and conservative groups are keeping an eye on A&E and the bearded Robertsons, who are fundamentalist Southern Baptists. Chris Stone, founder of a group that collected 260,000 signatures in defense of Phil Robertson, said that his group would “remain vigilant as we measure whether A&E’s actions reflect true tolerance, diversity and mutual respect … “
Incidentally, A&E is co-owned by the Disney Company and Hearst, media empires that are understandably reluctant to take one of the highest-rated cable TV shows off the air. As Brian Stelter of CNN reported, “Duck Dynasty is enormously profitable for A&E and … for the Robertsons too,” as any Walmart shopper knows because of the huge quantities of Duck Dynasty gear stocked by the giant retailer.
Before launching their show, the Robertsons made millions by selling fancy duck calls. The family discovered a lucrative niche market that has made it rich, and my late friend Bob Thomas would have admired their entrepreneurial spirit.
The First Amendment guarantees the right of free speech to all Americans, regardless of their weird personal and/or political beliefs, and it applies equally to Phil Robertson and Bill Maher. And that’s a good thing in our lively marketplace of ideas.
Guy W. Farmer is the Appeal’s senior political columnist.