Bad Faith, Free Speech: Outrage Over Imagined Rights

Several years ago I began pulling away from a friend. It was after the A&E network suspended Phil Robertson, one of the stars of Duck Dynasty, from that show. Robertson had done an interview with GQ where he equated homosexuality to bestiality. After issuing a statement that Robertson’s views did not reflect the opinions of A&E, and reaffirming their support of the LGBT community, they sacked him.

My friend tweeted, “Whatever happened to free speech?”

Two years later this repeated. Walmart banned sales of the Confederate battle flag and anything containing its image. This extended to Dukes of Hazzard memorabilia. Models of the iconic car the General Lee, which has the flag painted across its roof, were removed from shelves.

My friend went on a tear about First Amendment rights.

About That

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

First Amendment of the United States Constitution

Show me where Congress passed a law saying A&E had to kick Phil Robertson off the show. That never happened. Show me where the government rushed in, confiscated all of the copies of CQ featuring the interview, and burned them. It didn’t happen. The interview is still up on GQ’s website; I linked to it earlier in this essay. First Amendment rights have not been violated.

A&E reversed their suspension of Robertson a week later. It was moot anyway, because the new season featuring Robertson was already in the can and the network stated that they would air those episodes. The reason for the suspension was free publicity. A charitable reading of the situation is that it allowed A&E to making it clear they did not support their star’s homophobic opinions.

Similarly, show me where Federal agents stormed Walmart and seized everything with a Confederate battle flag on it. Present to me the order issued by a government agency requiring Walmart to remove said flag. Never happened.

You can buy Dukes of Hazzard memorabilia on Walmart’s website, including models of the General Lee. They’re offered by third-party sellers, not Walmart itself, but a lot of people won’t see the distinction. It should be noted that none of the merch I found showed the Confederate battle flag. All shots of the car were low and from the size, avoiding views of the roof.

Bad Faith, Free Speech, and Manufactured Outrage

The same friend also supported the notion that businesses should be able to refuse service to LGBT people. No bakery should have to make a cake for a same-sex wedding, nor should a photographer be compelled to capture it for posterity. He was also good with the outcome of Burwell v Hobby Lobby, and supported the idea that Chik-Fil-A should be able to donate money to whatever organization they please. The rationale is that they are businesses and should set their own policies.

I’m not going to try to go into how those cases are different from Robertson and Walmart. It would be more productive for me to run head first at a cinder block wall. Getting this out of my system is already wasting valuable time that I could be spending on more important things.

My point, of course, is that A&E is a business. Walmart is a business. They decide what content they provide. Where said content is deemed harmful, it’s gone. When the person providing the content is problematic, they’re out. Period.

Bad Faith, Free Speech and Imagined Rights

Of course this post isn’t about my former friend, or things that transpired many years ago. It’s about Simon & Schuster deciding not to publish Senator Josh Hawley’s book. It’s about Twitter finally enforcing its own terms of service and permanently banning a certain high-profile individual. More to the point, it’s about people claiming that this is a violation of free speech. Hawley was claiming, on Twitter and elsewhere, that Simon & Schuster had violated his First Amendment rights. Seditionists are crying about censorship.

Everyone wants rights. No one wants responsibilities. Unfortunately freedom of speech does not include freedom from consequences. Nor does it entitle you to a platform. It does not provide protections for an individual’s sense of entitlement.

Twitter went so far as to include the two Tweets that instigated that guy’s ban in the explanation of their decision. You can see what he put out into the ether. Hawley’s free to shop his book around to another publisher, to self-publish it, or to release it online for free. There is nothing preventing them from spewing their opinions; they just can’t do so on venues that have chosen not to support their messaging.

Bad Faith, Free Speech, Shut Up

Playing the victim when held accountable is tiring. Arguing that not allowing them to have their way is unfair to the point of violating their rights is tired. Get over it. Learn how to comport yourself in a civil manner, and this won’t happen. Figure out how to get along with other people, and not advocate for stripping people of their rights, and this won’t happen. Educate yourself as to what your actual rights are, and how to exercise them, and this won’t happen.

Stop acting in bad faith, and you won’t have to worry about free speech. Until then, just shut up.

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