Misconstruing free speech

Ah, another article about the recent “Duck Dynasty” fallout. How nice, right? Oh and it’s by an atheist, so this is gonna be good, too.

Let me say up front that freedom of speech and freedom of religious expression are two concepts I have very heavily defended everywhere possible. Phil Robertson has every right to speak his mind in whatever venue will allow him to do so. The venue that allowed him was Gentleman’s Quarterly (GQ). In response to the comments he made, not just about homosexuality but also the Jim Crow era, A&E put him on an indefinite suspension.

1525306_727405303937117_1920767008_n.jpgIn response to the suspension, conservatives and Christians in the US are blowing things way, way, way, way out of proportion. If you listen to any Christian conservative, you’d think that A&E somehow nullified everyone’s First Amendment protected right to free speech. Sorry, cousin, but that not only did not happen, it is not possible. Free speech is not in danger, but

No speech is immune from consequence

If you were to look up the domain name for this blog, you’d find that this blog is not hosted on WordPress or any other blog hosting site. Instead I set up this blog myself on my own web space for which I pay a quarterly fee. Sure I could instead point my domain name to a WordPress.com subdomain and save a good chunk of change every year, but I have very specific reasons for not doing that.

But I’ll go one step further.

I am employed by one of the largest companies in health care in the United States, which enjoys between 20% and 25% of hospitals and hospital networks in the US as clients. They also have clients in several countries around the world, and their reach is expanding. If you look around this blog, you will notice I don’t talk about health care all that much, and when I do choose to talk about it, I’m not typically all that specific. I’ve barely stated my opposition to the Affordable Care Act.

No law stops me from talking about health care. And the First Amendment protects my right to talk about health care in the United States, using whatever words I choose to employ.

However, anything I write about health care in the United States could be seen by one of the higher-ups at the company that employs me – i.e. the company currently funding my livelihood, including the ability for me to pay for the web hosting that keeps this blog running. If I write something that could be interpreted as disparaging my employer or one of their clients, or could be viewed as not being in line with the corporate goals or mission, or, while highly unlikely, could interfere with their ability to compete in a particular market space, I could lose my job.

And there isn’t any law in the US Code or the Revised Statutes for the State of Missouri that would stop them from doing so unless what I write happens to qualify for whistleblower protection.

No speech is immune from consequence. Even what I write on religion and politics could be used against me at work, albeit in more subtle ways that keep up an air of plausible deniability.

Speaking of, if you’re someone who is trying to use the Federal statutes to say that Robertson’s suspension was illegal, while at the same time calling for the striking down or non-enactment of laws that would protect homosexuals from being fired merely for being homosexual, then please take your hypocrisy and shove it up your ass.

While you’re at it, have you also forgotten that Robertson said the Jim Crow laws – i.e. state-sanctioned segregation and discrimination – weren’t all that bad?

But listening to the Christian conservatives who’ve backlashed against A&E, I’m starting to think we do need a law to shut them up, and not in the way you might be thinking:

No person who makes any kind of speech or expression that is consistent with the words and teachings of the Holy Bible shall be subject to any kind of reprisal or consequence stemming from said speech or expression. If said person does become subject to reprisal or consequence due to said speech or expression, such person shall be entitled to reasonable punitive damages.

What do you think, conservatives? This is what you’re wanting, isn’t it?

Given what you’re saying right now, how free speech is so under attack because a private organization suspended someone for some rather disparaging remarks, I know you feel all speech consistent with the Bible must be immune to any consequence because it is speech consistent with the Bible. Sorry, but things don’t work that way.

The First Amendment only protects your speech from reprisal by the government. It does not protect you from reprisal by anyone else. No person can subject you to serious harm for anything you do say, just as no person can subject you to serious harm for any reason other than to defend him or herself, but no expression is immune from ridicule, criticism, rebuttal, or societal repercussions.

How can you tell if your right to free speech and free expression has been violated? It’s really quite easy: did your speech land you in jail? As Phil Robertson is still a free man, he still and always has had his right to free expression, just as you still have your right to free speech and free expression.

Phil Robertson’s “suspension” from A&E did not change that, so stop acting like it did.