Free speech, censorship and sinPublished 10:32pm Saturday, December 21, 2013
The flap over Phil Robertson’s remarks about homosexuality during a recent interview with GQ magazine has revealed an incredible lack of understanding among Americans about free speech, about censorship and about the meaning of the word “tolerance.”
Robertson, the wildly popular patriarch of the “Duck Dynasty” family that has taken cable television by storm, stated that homosexuality was a sin and veered into the tasteless with a crude (though not vulgar) comparison of homosexual and heterosexual acts. I won’t repeat the quotes here, because I consider them too coarse for a family newspaper, but you can easily find them on the Internet, and there’s nothing your teen will not already have learned in his or her sex education class.
Gay-rights organizations immediately slammed Robertson for his “vile remarks” and said his “intolerant” attitude put him at odds with “true Christians.” Their protests caused A&E executives to quickly and indefinitely suspend him from the show.
And they had every right to do so. The free-speech protections of the First Amendment did exactly what they were supposed to do. Robertson had the freedom to espouse his beliefs without fear of government intervention, and A&E exercised its right to hire and fire a public face without seeking approval — or fearing retribution from — the same government.
While I agree with Robertson that Scripture is very clear about homosexual behavior being a sin — along with gossip, adultery, theft, blasphemy and lots of other things that cause us all to miss God’s flawless mark — I believe he erred in choosing such a coarse approach to talking about sin.
In fact, we recently have refused advertisements in this newspaper for similar reasons. A group of uncertain origin has been sending occasional ads against sodomy, and we’ve turned down a couple of them because we deemed them tasteless.
It wasn’t censorship — the government didn’t force us to hold the ads, we made that decision ourselves. It was a business decision based on our assessment that our readers would find the way the subject matter was presented to be offensive. We don’t require that advertisers (or reporters, or editors or other employees) hold opinions echoing some corporate ethos, and our company allows its employees and advertisers to publicly espouse their own opinions (as I’m doing here).
Still, though I may have a fundamental right to free speech, I don’t have a fundamental right to use this newspaper as my megaphone. I enjoy that privilege only as long as my company’s owners extend it. As with the advertisements we chose not to run, in the end, this megaphone does not belong to me. If I’d like to shout tasteless things at the people of Suffolk, I can use some other medium to do so.
Similarly Robertson represented the A&E network while he was working on “Duck Dynasty.” Within the terms of his contract, whenever executives there grew tired of his straight-talking manner, he was subject to being removed.
Because of the First Amendment, Robertson’s supporters can now respond with just about whatever words suit them. And they can make an even louder proclamation with their dollars and viewership.
But as a Christian, I hope those who respond will choose to do so by “speak(ing) the truth in love,” as the Apostle Paul put it. For it is only the love of Christ — a love that saved a woman from stoning while simultaneously commanding her to leave her life of sin — that can redeem any of us sinners.