Freedom of Speech 101: Duck Dynasty

Real quick so we all start at the same place: #1 “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.” (irrelevant portions crossed out.)

Who can’t act?


What can’t they do?

Take away my right to say whatever the fuck I want.

#14 in relevant portion only: “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States.”

Who can’t act?

Any state.

What can’t they do?

Take away any citizen’s rights.

Now, anyone who tells you that a law is simple or clear doesn’t know what they are talking about, but basically, what these two together mean is that no governmental entity (federal, state, or local) can punish anyone living in the US for speech. If you think that’s all there is to it, go shout “fire” in a crowded theater or threaten to kill someone. Yeah, don’t do that. In fact, don’t even write on your blog that people should do that…fuck.

But the one thing that is clear is that the amendments only consider government actors. If you say something stupid in my comments, I’m free to delete it and block your IP address. If you post pictures of someone breastfeeding, facebook is free to remove them (facebook, you can also remove posts and groups that joke about rape, just FYI, in case you wanted to). And if you say something bigoted, your boss can fire you (unless your boss receives public funds). Neither me, facebook, nor A&E are governmental entities, so we can do whatever the hell we want to people who say things we disagree with.

So the asshole getting suspended or whatever from Duck Dynasty wasn’t a First Amendment issue. His rights were not violated. He was not thrown in jail. He was not fined by the government. He did not lose his voting rights or his business license. A&E is not the government, and no one has the right to what they’re giving.

I made a handy flowchart for you.


But what about his religious freedom?

What about it? Go back and read the First Amendment. The part I crossed off about religion. Is that clause modified by something other than “Congress shall make no law?” No? Then we’re good.

But what about discrimination? You can’t fire someone because they are a particular religion.

You are absolutely right. A&E didn’t. They suspended him for spouting off his views that they thought would make them unpopular with viewers and advertisers. Those are allegedly connected to his religion, but he was not practicing his faith when he made those hateful comments, even if his religion dictates that he be hateful. He wasn’t suspended for his belief or practice. He was suspended for speech. Fine line, but line nonetheless. No law is simple or clear.

Well, the First Amendment shouldn’t protect hateful speech anyway.

Yes it should. The government should not decide what is right and what is wrong. The government should not punish speech to shape society. There should be a free market of ideas, and the cure for bad speech and bigotry is more speech. I don’t agree with what you have to say, but I will fight to the death for your right to say it. –Not Voltaire.

Doesn’t A&E have right right to freedom of association?

Yes. And should the government force them to rehire bigots, then their rights would be violated.


About emmawolf

I'm a freelance writer living in Baltimore with my husband, son, and two cats. I'm working on editing my first novel. I love reading, traveling, and the cello.
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