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Freedom of Speech, Religion, Homosexuality, and Ducks

Freedom of Speech, Religion, Homosexuality, and Ducks

I wrote this on Facebook a couple days ago:

I've never watched Duck Dynasty. I don't know anything about the show; however, the controversy isn't about the show per se, but about comments made by one of the cast members in a GQ interview. So I read it, and here's what I think: It's 2013, and bigotry is still as big a problem as it's always been. It's 2013, and this Robertson guy is being hailed as a hero. It's 2013, and it might as well be 1960... or 1860. We think of ourselves as enlightened and righteous, but until we learn how to love and accept people who are different from us, we will remain perpetually in the darkness.

All of this "controversy" seems rather premeditated. Robertson makes some wild statements about a hot-button issue, A&E suspends him "indefinitely," and now every aspect of social media is blowing up about Duck Dynasty. I wouldn't be surprised to find out it was all part of the plan. Phil Robertson and Duck Dynasty have been all over the Interwebs lately. I haven't been able to go on Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, My Little Pony, without seeing something about this bearded, camouflage-clad conservative Christian and his anti-homosexual remarks. I wasn't going to write about it, but I haven't been able to avoid it, and because the controversy has become so ubiquitous lately, I've seen a lot of misunderstanding and plain old poor reasoning about all the topics related to this event: freedom of speech, religious rights, and homosexuality.

I'll start with this response to my Facebook post by a young Christian man whom I will call "Blake":

  I believe the being gay is wrong as well based on religion but I've never discriminated against anyone. Also some of my thoughts come from science in the way that to naturally progress a species both a "male" and a "female" must get a little busy to advance the species, Unless its asexual. But nothing anyone says or does should ever stop or hinder anyones right of their pursuit of happiness. Of course if their happiness is to cause harm or death then it must be stopped. And in any case our Christian role model Jesus would have beem hanging out with all of our "outcasts" instead of outright condemnation. And yes this will sound bad but by being around them he would lead by example or by being a friend of them attempt to change them. (sic)

Blake, like Phil Robertson, is falling back on the old tired arguments against homosexuality. At least Blake didn't commit the "homosexuality leads to bestiality" fallacy that Robertson did. Still, we see from both Blake and Phil Robertson the same arguments that keep getting repeated by people who have never bothered to investigate the evidence because they won't allow themselves to see beyond their own belief system. I offered this reply to Blake:

Your thoughts about homosexuality that "come from science" presume that sex is only for the purpose of procreation. It also presumes that homosexuality is "unnatural," but we find several instances of homosexual behavior occurring in the animal kingdom. And homosexuality (like heterosexuality) isn't just about sex. It's about emotional bonds, relationships, and love. When you say "being gay is wrong," you're not just condemning a particular form of sex, but genuine love that two people feel for each other, and the desire to build a life together. You're married, so I will assume you understand that kind of love and bond. Such a connection between two human beings should not be so easily dismissed or devalued.

They so flippantly throw around their belief that "being gay is wrong" without taking into consideration that we're not talking about a particular act one can simply choose to do, like shoplifting or adultery or baking cookies, and determining the morality of such an action: we're talking about people, with a complex emotional, psychological, and relational makeup, who, whether by nature or nurture or some combination of both, have a lifestyle preference that's just as immutable as Blake's heterosexuality.

And since we're talking about Facebook, I saw an ad on the side of my Facebook feed that said, "Click 'Like' if you support Phil Robertson's right to believe the Bible!" Here's the thing, folks: this debacle with Robertson isn't about his right to believe the Bible. No one is infringing on his right to believe the Bible. He can (and has) expressed his beliefs, freely and openly. He has the right to believe what he wants; however, neither Phil Robertson nor any other citizen has the right to be free from consequences. Our actions, our words, our ideologies have consequences. How we live and how we speak and behave based on our beliefs have an effect. Phil Robertson has the right to his religious beliefs. No one's trying to take that away from him. Freedom of religion (and freedom of speech) means that, while he has the right to believe as he wants, others have the right to disagree with him. If I use my freedom of religion and freedom of speech to disagree with Robertson publicly, that in no way robs Phil Robertson of his right to believe the Bible.

Freedom of speech - and I can't believe there are still people in this country who don't understand what the hell "freedom of speech" means - means that the government can't censor you. Like freedom of religion, it means you can write your thoughts and opinions on your blog or speak out at a rally or talk to your neighbors about what you think/feel/believe and you won't get black-bagged by the government. Freedom of expression means I can share my views without hindrance from the powers that be. It doesn't mean I should be shielded from criticism, because, after all, if I can express my opinions with my freedom of speech, other people can express their opinions with their freedom as well, even if those opinions are in opposition to mine. That's the great thing about having freedom of speech: we can engage each other in dialogue, discussion, and debate without fear of "Big Brother" stepping in.

Freedom of speech does not mean one is immune to any consequences. Whether planned or not, Phil Robertson made remarks that his employer, the Arts & Entertainment Network, found to be not in line with the company's views. Because of this, A&E suspended Robertson. Was Robertson's freedom of speech stifled? Not at all, and obviously so. Phil shared his views publicly. He was never silenced, or censored, or told to shut up. He was suspended from his TV job. I'm a martial arts instructor. If I started making comments on my Facebook that my employer, the owner of the academy, thought was not in line with what he wants his academy to represent, he has the right to fire me.

Let's turn the tables. Phil Robertson spoke out against homosexuals. Did he take away their right to believe as they see fit? Not at all. This is a common double-standard prevalent in conservative religious circles: the mentality that they can condemn freely without repercussion, yet if anyone speaks against their beliefs, they think they're "being persecuted" and they cry foul because they think they're losing their "freedom of religion" and there's a "war on Christmas" and "OMG don't tell me Santa Claus isn't white!" And now Phil Robertson is conservative Christianity's martyr: the latest sacrificial duck lamb.

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