In late December, Phil Robertson, family patriarch of the hit A&E show Duck Dynasty, was suspended for controversial comments he made about black people and gay people to the men’s magazine GQ. The statements made by Robertson, however, ended up saying more about society’s cultural reaction to someone voicing an unpopular opinion than it did of Robertson’s individual beliefs.
The First Amendment states, “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech,” and this basic sentiment allows us to draw two conclusions. The first is that A&E was well within their constitutional right to suspend Robertson from the show. A&E is a private network that can choose to suspend, fire or otherwise punish an employee who presumably violates his or her contract with the network. So those decrying the downfall of the First Amendment might want to pump the brakes.
The second conclusion that can be drawn is about hypocrisy. Those on the anti-Christian side (a safe categorization, seeing as Robertson based his statements on the Bible) came out saying A&E didn’t go far enough and that they should have fired Robertson and his family for their beliefs. Unfortunately for those worrying about the downfall of human rights at Robertson’s hands, the First Amendment has nothing to do with being offended. It doesn’t say, “Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech … unless your feelings get hurt or you disagree in any way.”
Before gay marriage became the widely accepted cultural movement it is today, those in support of it faced the same “just stop talking” sentiment critics are now throwing at people such as Phil Robertson. How easily people forget the value of being able to express their opinions when those opinions become culturally popular. How easily they toss around the word “bigot” without realizing it has a far more widespread application than they care to admit.
“Bigot”, according to Merriam-Webster, is a person who is intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices.
Just as those who disagree with Robertson on the issue of gay marriage want to change freedom of speech to only include the things they find palatable, they also want to change the word bigot to only apply to those with religious convictions.
And “prejudice”, according to Merriam-Webster, is a preformed opinion, usually an unfavorable one, based on insufficient knowledge, irrational feelings or inaccurate stereotypes.
Having clarified prejudice, we can now more accurately define a bigot as someone who is intolerantly devoted to his or her own negative opinions. But is it not bigoted to decide anyone who doesn’t support gay marriage is hateful and intolerant? Attacking Phil Robertson for his choice to exercise his own freedom of speech and his own freedom of religion allows people to misuse the word bigot and pervert a constitution they claim is being perverted and misrepresent a religion they’ve taken just enough time to learn so they can make a comment about whether or not Robertson should eat shellfish.
At all costs ,the people calling those who oppose gay marriage bigoted have to keep going. Because those who like to use the word bigoted conveniently spend so much time attacking the rest of the population that they haven’t looked in the mirror long enough to realize that their behavior and language makes them exactly the boogeyman they’re scared of — people intolerantly devoted to a preformed negative opinion about an entire group of people.
So maybe it’s time to take a step back and look at our own behavior. Before deciding someone is a redneck or a bigot for not agreeing with a culturally popular opinion, we should look at how we express those beliefs. Before calling people names like a nation of third graders, we should take a minute to evaluate whether those words come from our own place of bigotry.
After that, we can talk about the shellfish thing.
Calum Hayes is a junior majoring in broadcast and digital journalism and philosphy, politics and law.