Freedom of Speech – Duck Dynasty and what it Doesn’t Mean

Constitution of United StatesThere’s an interesting story making the rounds about the star of a television show called Duck Dynasty. The story seems to engender a great deal of confusion about the First Amendment to the Constitution and the idea of Freedom of Speech.

The confusion runs so deep that even the governor of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal, apparently has no idea what the Constitution means, and that’s a scary thought. A governor who is totally misguided about the Constitution of the United States!

What happened is that Phil Robertson said some things about homosexuals and blacks that people found offensive. The network where he worked, A&E, suspended him for these remarks. Immediately following the suspension people began to talk about the First Amendment to the Constitution and the concept of Freedom of Speech. They seem to be under the bizarre illusion that you can say anything you want and face absolutely no repercussions. This is in no way, shape, manner, or form the idea of Freedom of Speech.

Depending on what state you work in you can be fired without cause at any time. What do you expect would happen to you if you went up to your boss and told them you paid their spouse five dollars for a sexual liaison down in the alley? Fired! You betcha.

Could you be thrown in jail? No.

That’s the point of the First Amendment and I absolutely shudder in disbelief when someone who is the governor of one of our states apparently doesn’t understand this. When I see comment sections filled by inaccurate statements about the First Amendment it doesn’t bother me too much, it bothers me, just not to the point of writing a blog. A lot of people just aren’t that smart. They have no idea what the Constitution is about nor what Freedom of Speech means.

The pertinent part of the First Amendment reads: Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech.

What part of that could possibly be unclear? There shall be no laws written to prevent people from speaking freely. Generally this means political speech but it can cover other things. Over the years certain types of speech have been ruled not to be subject to the Amendment. Yelling fire in a crowded theater being the primary example often used.

How on earth can anyone think that A&E is passing a law by suspending Robertson?

Robertson has every right to express his opinion. Those who support him have every right to support him as loudly as they want. Those who oppose him have the same right. However, Robertson is not free from repercussions. This has nothing to do with the First Amendment.

Go on, tell your spouse how fat they are, see how much the Constitution protects you from the wrath that follows.

I absolutely support Robertson’s right to say whatever he believes. I support A&E’s right to suspend whoever they want, it’s their network. I applaud Robertson for stating his mind. Now he has to live with the consequences of that decision, good or bad. It has nothing to do with Freedom of Speech.

My advice to Governor Jindal and everyone else who is foggy on the First Amendment? Read the Constitution, good stuff there.

Tom Liberman

Freedom of Religion

Freedom of ReligionI think one of the most interesting clauses in the Constitution of the United States is that of the First Amendment’s Freedom of Religion. Recent events bring up intriguing issues in regards to its enforcement and that is the topic of my blog today.

Anyway, let’s start with the actually wording of the clause, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;”

This clause is often referenced as the Establishment Clause and is generally interpreted to:

  1. Prohibit the establishment of a national religion by Congress
  2. Prohibit the preference by the U.S. government of one religion over another

Early on there were established State Religions and generally prior to the Fourteenth Amendment this clause was interpreted to restrict the federal government but not the states. In fact, eight states still legally refuse to allow Atheist to hold office although the Supreme Court has ruled this unenforceable.

The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment is an extremely interesting subject and perhaps I’ll take that on in a future blog. Basically, this clause has expanded the interpretation of the Establishment Clause to the states. So that now individual states are under the same restrictions as the federal government. I could spend quite some time discussing the relative value of this expansion but it’s not really the topic I’d like to take on today.

Today I want to discuss how individual and organizational religious beliefs are now being protected. There are any number of cases working their way through the courts but the gist of all of them is that an individual or group is immune to legal  requirements because of their religion. For example, a Catholic pharmacist can refuse to prescribe birth-control pills or a hospital might be able to refuse to provide contraception to workers on their health plan. A deeply religious person might be able to legally assault someone who offends their belief system.

Freedom of religion cuts both ways.

The idea that the federal and state governments must allow people to worship religiously of their own accord with no undue influence is, in my opinion, a good plan. The original clause is relatively simple, the state cannot force me, in any way, to worship a particular religion. They cannot lead me in forced prayer, they cannot force me to attend a particular place of worship, they cannot pass a law making my belief system illegal.

The problem comes in defining worship. There are no easy answers here. Is beating up atheists a requirement of my religion? Is killing infidels a requirement of my religion? Does my opposition to birth control make me immune to a law that requires me to pay insurance benefits? It’s an endless debate that grows ever more complex and threatens religious freedom for Atheists, Christians, Wiccans, Muslims, Taoist, and all the rest.

As a Libertarian I think a much more restrictive interpretation solves a great number of these issues. If we simply prevent the establishment of religion by the state and prevent laws giving preference to one religion or another we go a long way towards eliminating these questions. If a hospital is legally obligated to pay for health insurance they must do so. If a man assaults another he must face the consequences. If a teacher leads a non-mandatory prayer then they can do so. If a state wants to say a prayer before assembly they can provided it is not mandatory and penalties are not applied to those who don’t take part. A school must be allowed to cover the ideas evolution and creationism but cannot only teach one.

Don’t enforce your religion on me. It’s that simple. Believe what you will but established laws otherwise apply.

This one is sure to anger people on both sides of the political landscape but hopefully I’ve explained why a Libertarian point of view, in which the state’s influence is minimized, is often best at preventing the majority from enforcing their will on the minority and allows us all our freedom, religious or otherwise.

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Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist

Teaser – Freedom of Religion

Lately I’ve noticed a few stories where someone’s freedom of religion entitles them certain immunities to constitutional requirements. I suppose the most recent case was the birth control flap that is currently making the political rounds but there are a few more of similar ilk. It does bring up some interesting questions. What is the meaning of the First Amendment and how does the Constitution of the United States apply to religious organizations and individuals?

I’m going to give it a bit of look tomorrow although it might end up being too in depth a topic to handle in one day. There are a lot of issues and complications to the idea but I’ll give it a go.

Stay tuned to find out my take on freedom of religion!

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist