These days almost everyone has a blog or a column or a podcast or some means of participating in the national conversation that goes on daily about, well, everything. It’s one of the more interesting aspects of the information revolution the rise of the Internet has sparked. It means everyone has a bullhorn or at least a microphone – and that has some people very, very scared.
Growing up most of us were taught that we had to show respect for what other people thought – regardless of whether or not we agreed with them. It was the “I may disagree with what you say but will defend to the death your right to say it” view of the First Amendment protections given to speech and religious liberty in the U.S. Constitution.
Unfortunately somewhere along the line people began to forget that the right to dissent or to express an unpopular opinion free from government sanction did not also make them immune to criticism. The first amendment guarantee of free speech became a weapon used by the radical left beginning in the 1960s to beat back challenges from the establishment to their views and opinions whenever they expressed them.
As a result the media savvy culture in which we now live has, for some time, been rife with double standards.
The latest kerfuffle making this apparent is the firing of “Duck Dynasty’s” Phil Robertson after an interview in which he candidly shared his beliefs about homosexuality being a sin appeared in GQ Magazine. For this he was essentially fired from his family’s smash hit reality show by the network on which it airs.
There are a lot of people now complaining that A&E, the network on which the show airs, violated Robertson’s right to free speech by cutting him lose from the show. In fact they did no such thing. Robertson has not been deprived of his liberty or his property by the government over the views he expressed; he simply lost a job, one that media accounts have led some people to conclude he was not all that happy with anyway.
The reaction in some quarters has been to urge a boycott of all A&E programming until Robertson is put back on the show. This too has been attacked by some as an infringement on the network’s right to freedom of speech – as though a public pressure campaign that attempts to use market forces to make the network change its mind is somehow equivalent to threats from the government to take it off the air.
Robertson is in the hot seat because he said he adhered to what in the entertainment industry is an unpopular point of view: that the Bible condemns homosexuality in the same way it condemns bestiality, theft and other things most American would agree are crimes. He also had a few nice things to say about the way people should treat one another regardless of one’s opinion of how someone else chooses to live their life but, to his critics, that is irrelevant. He crossed what is increasingly a line that cannot be crossed in the popular culture and has received an unpleasant consequence for doing so.
It is okay for people to be upset about this, that the dominant media culture is punishing him for his religious beliefs, and for them to take action in his defense. Those who are doing so might want to remember, however, that mankind was promised nearly 2,000 years ago that those who accepted and embraced the faith that Robertson holds dear would be persecuted because of it.
Over what he said, Robertson has become a goat. Contrast this with the embrace by Hollywood and the media elites of The Dixie Chicks, an all-girl country group that was popular a decade and a half ago after one of their number said some unkind things about President George W. Bush during a concert. For this some radio stations decided to stop playing their records and people stopped going to their concerts. Yet “Entertainment Weekly,” one of the industry bibles, put them – naked – on a magazine cover with all kinds of nasty things written on them as though they were martyrs to freedom of speech.
Whatever the Robertson business is about – and it is about the elites trying to attack, shame, and suppress views with which they disagree but which have more support among the public at large than they probably expect – it’s not about freedom of speech. Cultural pressure and government coercion are, thankfully, very different things. It is important to keep that in mind. In today’s media-driven culture it is a truism that all opinions are equal but some opinions are more equal than others. It is also a bona fide reason for people to be concerned; they just need to be concerned for the right reasons.
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Peter Roff is a Senior Fellow at Frontiers for Freedom. Mr. Roff is also a contributing editor at U.S. News & World Report. Formerly a senior political writer for United Press International, he’s also affiliated with Let Freedom Ring. His writing has appeared in National Review, Fox News’ opinion section, The Daily Caller, Politico and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @PeterRoff.