Duck Dynasty, Submission of Women, and Freedom of Speech

When I read the news this morning about the Duck Dynasty star who called homosexuality a sin and likened it to bestiality, I really wanted to write a blog post, but I said to myself, “Self. Do you really want to start a discussion about that? Today?”

And myself said, “Heck no.”

So I was going to bite my proverbial tongue and just do something safer. Maybe a post about bunnies. But then I kept delving into the news, and I came across this article about a book causing a stir in Europe. It’s title? Get Married and Be Submissive. That’s right, folks. It’s got such gems as

“It’s true, you’re not yet an experienced cook or a perfect housewife. What’s the problem if he tells you so? Tell him that he is right, that it’s true, that you will learn,” Miriano said. “On seeing your sweetness and your humility, your effort to change, this will also change him.”

And once I’d read about that book, my fingers just started itching, and it was too late. I had to say something, even if I wasn’t quite sure what it was going to be. But that’s why I’m glad I have this blog. I can think through things by writing these posts, then bounce those ideas off a diverse group of people and see what comes out at the end of all of it. So with the big disclaimer and plea that we try to keep things civil (as we usually do), let’s go.

So there are these things called freedom of speech and freedom of religion, and as far as I’m concerned, they mean people can say what they want to say and believe what they want to believe. Which means if people want to say or believe homosexuality is a sin, or women should be barefoot, pregnant, and permanently perched in front of a Kitchenaid, then people can say those things. People can say or believe just about anything they want in this country.


There’s also this thing called hate speech. And this is where things get tricky. Because while people are allowed to say what they want to say, they’re not allowed to say things that are going to incite people to violence against a group of other people. To try and separate this from touchy subjects, I’m going to delve into the hypothetical. Let’s imagine for a moment that I said something like “People who enjoy Two and a Half Men are idiots.” That’s my right. And if I extended it to say “I’m starting a new religion based on my belief that people who enjoy Two and a Half Men are idiots,” things are all still groovy. But if I had “and we should beat them all up” to the end of my statement of belief, then I’ve crossed the line. I can believe or say what I want, but that belief or speech shouldn’t incite others to violence against a group of people. Or at least, that’s how I understand hate speech. (Note: Bryce is not a lawyer.)

And all of this seems pretty cut and dried when we’re just talking about people who like Two and a Half Men, but when we start applying it to the real world, it gets very messy. Because what happens when you start stating your beliefs about groups that are often victims of persecution–especially when the continued bias against those groups is the cause of that persecution or violence.

What if it’s a person talking about how they believe Jews are evil, or Muslims are all terrorists? What do you do then, if they aren’t adding “and they should all be killed” at the end of those statements? They might not be actively using “hate speech,” but they’re propagating continued prejudice against a people–prejudice that often results in violence and persecution.

I don’t know this Duck Dynasty guy at all. I’ve never seen the show. Never heard one quote from him until this morning. (I guess that makes me out of touch with a sizable chunk of pop culture. Such is life.) When you look at what he said, he doesn’t appear to be actively advocating harm or injury to homosexuals. He’s saying he believes homosexuality is a sin. But he’s saying that belief in the middle of a GQ article that will be read by a very large audience (theoretically. Do people read GQ? I don’t.)

If he had said, “Adultery is a sin, and I can’t stand it,” I wouldn’t be writing this post. But then again, adulterers aren’t really persecuted against these days, are they?

The question I kept asking myself as I read his statements and the furor that’s erupting around them is “Where is the line?” Many religious groups believe homosexuality is a sin. Fact. Some people use that belief to persecute homosexuals. Fact. Then again, should people not be allowed to state their religious beliefs, just because other practicers of those same beliefs are crappy at actually practicing the whole package? People who focus on the sins and forget all about that little old “Love thy Neighbor” bit?

What Mr. Duck Dynasty actually said doesn’t appear to be anything other than colorfully stating some widely held religious beliefs about what behavior is sinful. When you read the actual article (instead of the snippets that are being widely quoted), you find out he was asked specifically what he believes are sins. From what I understand of the show, the fact that he’s a hardcore, Bible-thumping, sin hating Christian is kind of one of the center pieces of the show. So to have A&E all of a sudden be like, “Wait. He believes homosexuality is a sin?” and gasp and go all a-flutter seems sort of like putting a lion in a cage, throwing some meat in front of it, and then expressing outrage when it eats it up whole. “Lions aren’t vegetarian?

Mr. Dynasty follows up his comments about sin and homosexuality with this:

We never, ever judge someone on who’s going to heaven, hell. That’s the Almighty’s job. We just love ’em, give ’em the good news about Jesus—whether they’re homosexuals, drunks, terrorists. We let God sort ’em out later, you see what I’m saying?

While he even then lumps homosexuals in with terrorists, it seems clear he’s not advocating hating anyone for their beliefs or actions. He’s just saying what he believes.

So in this case, I’d have to say I’m siding with the bearded duck guy. He was asked what he believed, and he said it. He followed it up by saying–in his own colorful way–that people shouldn’t be judged. I’m not sure what else he should have done in that situation. The sound and fury around it feels a lot like bear baiting to me.

It’s the same with the book about women being submissive. The author can think what she wants to think and write what she wants to write. People don’t need to believe her. People can feel free to ignore her. In both cases, the outrage expressed by other groups over what’s written or said seems to me to be more a case of “People looking for a platform” to garner attention to a message they want highlighted. And again, they’re allowed to do that.

Bah. That’s all the writing I’ve got in me at the moment. I’ll throw this out there to you hungry wolves and see where it takes us. Remember–be kind.

9 thoughts on “Duck Dynasty, Submission of Women, and Freedom of Speech”

  1. I agree that what he said isn’t hate speech. I also agree that his freedom of speech means that he can say what he said. I don’t like it any more than I like some of the horrible things I’ve heard said about mutants, but I’m not going to deny him his right to speak his mind. That said, A&E also has the right to run their business as they see fit, and if they think it’s bad for business to have him on their network after he’s publicly stated his beliefs, then they can do that. They aren’t violating his free speech in any way. So my only beef in all this is with the people (not you) who are saying that the Duck dude’s free speech has been taken away.

  2. I think that I will start a new religion that is based on beating up Bryce because he blogs and doesn’t send out Christmas cards and makes gingerbread houses out of graham crackers.

  3. Duck Dynasty has a huge following (don’t ask me why) – at various times, it has been the number 1 show on cable. Millions of dollars in merchandising, and a huge following. So, much to my dismay, these guys have a lot of influence. What they say matters in popular culture. Like Snooki from Jersey Shore (again, sadly), they are important to the zeitgeist. So, A&E is taking a huge step in suspending one of their top moneymakers. They are making a statement. And I am fine with that. First of all, no one infringed on this guy’s free speech – he was allowed to say what he wanted to, in a magazine that follows popular culture. The problem in all of this is that he was not just being interviewed as Phil Robertson, the guy who runs a duck decoy company, but rather as the star of Duck Dynasty, thus representing the A&E Network. While he does espouse his religious beliefs on the show, he does not delve into finger pointing and sin calling. The reporters at GQ asked him a legitimate question, he gave a legitimate answer, and he was allowed to do that. What he is no longer allowed to do, however, is to represent the A&E brand. I see this as a business decision and not a free speech issue – no one told him he could not say these things, and he has not been thrown in jail or otherwise had legal action taken against him by a government entity. He simply can no longer be a representative of a network that does not share these beliefs. He had the right to say what he did, and he said it. He does not have the right to have no consequences from his employer if he makes the company look bad. The First Amendment protects us from government interference in speech – much case law shows us that it does not extend to private companies.

  4. Mormon X–Agreed. His freedom of speech was not taken away. Pretty much what Frank said.

    Debbie–That sounds like an awesome religion. Can I get a cut of all tithes?

    Frank–I agree that his freedom of speech wasn’t tromped on, and that A&E has the right to not have him on their show. At the same time, I can’t help feeling frustrated at A&E. From what I understand, it’s not like they didn’t realize who this guy was and what he believed when they chose to promote him as their prime moneymaker. To have him then be the person he always claimed to be, and to express dismay and outrage at that, smacks of more than a little hypocrisy. And I can’t help but think they’re loving the coverage this is giving their show. I would be shocked if he isn’t back on as the star in less than a week. I feel like A&E is going for the cake and eat it too approach, and I find that weaselly. If they’re outraged by his statements, they should cancel his show entirely. Again–from what I’ve read and heard, I seriously doubt he’s the only person on the show who believes this and would answer like that when asked.

  5. Bryce, let me propose an alternative to your hate speech example. What if you say I think we should kill all those who enjoy 2.5 men. Please rise up with me, all ye faithful, and wage jihad against the infidel 2.5 men enjoyers. What is the problem with that? Perhaps it hurts the feelings of those few people who enjoy 2.5 men, but maybe not. Maybe they think Bryce is an idiot, and Bryce’s wife is reluctant to be seen with him. Ordinary people can get on Twitter and Tweet #IH8Bryce and #2.5men4eva! Society shambles along, and the people are free.

    If one of Bryce’s followers kills somebody, the follower goes to jail for murder. Not for what he thought but for what he did. Maybe Bryce is happy, maybe he feels bad.

    Under the hate speech solution, then our freedom gets eroded. If a gay person says gay weddings should be held in Mormon temples, I get offended, and I want him arrested for hate speech against Mormons. The gay person gets offended that I want him arrested for speaking out, and has me arrested for hate speech. Where does it end?

    We live in a society where soon the only sin will be judging people.

    I submit that the cure for “bad” speech, or “hate” speech is more speech, not trying to guess what is hate speech and what is simply “speaking truth to power”, because people will often disagree which category speech will fall into, depending on their point of view.

    If I say that “children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity” is that hate speech? What would GLAAD say about it? What would single mothers say about it? I think we are better off saying whatever we want, and let the marketplace of ideas sift though and pick out those ideas that are helpful. I don’t think the government should get involved unless someone takes action, and then the action should be punished, not the thoughts.

    Applied to Duck Dynasty, I think Phil should say what he wants, GLAAD can issue their statements, A&E can fire Phil or give him a raise as they see fit, and the viewers can watch Duck Dynasty or not, as they see fit. That works a lot better in my opinion that saying some speech is so bad we just won’t allow it.

    Sorry for the long reply.

  6. Matt–Never a need to apologize for long replies. 🙂

    I don’t think I agree with the “let’s do away with hate speech laws” approach, though. If someone were out there actively saying, “Kill all the Mormons,” I’d like to think I’d be protected by our government–that he would be silenced. Especially if he started saying things like “Kill Bryce. He’s an awful person.” Hate speech doesn’t sound too upsetting until you’re the one getting hated, in my experience. In a land of freedom, I’d like to shoot for a land where people are free of the need to fear for their lives because idiots are going to idiot.

    That said, I don’t think free speech is really at issue here, as I’ve thought about it more. As you, Frank, and Mormon X all pointed out–no one was silenced. No hate speech really occurred. I’d be stunned of Mr. Duck was arrested or anything for his statements. Everybody’s speaking their mind, and it’s all going as it should, I suppose.

    I just wish A&E didn’t sound so surprised he believes what he believes.

  7. I am no expert on hate crimes, but I do have a pretty good grasp of Maine Criminal law.

    In Maine it would be totally legal to actively say “Kill all the Mormons.” You might get into a Disorderly Conduct situation if you annoyed, taunted or accosted someone with derisive words that would have a tendency to provoke a violent response, but posting on facebook something like “We should kill all the Mormons” would not do it. On the other hand, if you said “I have a gun and I am going to the Farmington Chapel and kill Bishop Hayes,” that would be Terrorizing. Still not a hate crime though, since the crime is putting someone in fear for their life. I doesn’t matter what your reason was, or if you even had a reason.

  8. Debbie–As long as the monies are going to buy me stuff, I’m cool with that.

    Matt–Interesting. I didn’t know that. I’d still be really irate with anyone who espoused killing anyone for any reason, and I’d take the opportunity to express that displeasure on my blog. 🙂 Of course, I was irritated when everyone got gloaty over Osama Bin Laden’s death, so maybe that’s just me.

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