There has been a lot of social media chatter about the recent controversy surrounding the infamous star(s) of the Duck Dynasty franchise. Apparently, one of the main characters, Phil Robertson made some disparaging remarks in a GQ Magazine interview regarding his views on homosexuality and Jim Crow era race relations. As a result, Mr. Robertson was relieved of his contractual obligations with the A & E television network. Not soon after, every realm of social media became abuzz with outrage; many calling for his head, and others exclaiming constitutional free speech violations. Understandably so, the show has an enormous following, boasting the highest reality show ratings in A&E history with over 11.8 million viewers.
It has been interesting seeing post after post from non-legal-scholars proffering opinions on the constitutionality of various social issues such as this one. As Susan Milligan put it, “somewhere between the vitriolic, anonymous Internet comments and reality TV, we seem to have lost the idea of the true meaning of the First Amendment.” Before having the opportunity to attend law school, I probably would have been one of them. However, while I’ve never seen the show in its entirety, I do know a thing or two about the Freedom of Speech. Specifically, as written, the First Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits the making of any law abridging the freedom of speech. Period! It does not afford you the right to publicly express anything you want during the course of your employment exempt from contractual consequences taken by your private employer.
Just ask Justine Sacco, the high-ranking PR executive from the New York-based internet empire InterActive Corp, who was recently fired for a highly offensive Tweet directed at the entire continent of Africa. Bottom line, the Freedom of Speech only protects statements suppressed by governmental entities such as state, local and federal agencies. The Freedom of Speech does not protect your comments from the repercussions of a private employer. However, for those less versed in the law, there are exceptions, such as the State Actor Doctrine, where a person who is acting on behalf of a governmental body can be subject to regulation under the United States Bill of Rights. Here, however, last time I checked, A & E is not, nor has it ever been owned, operated by, or received any funding from a government entity.
But Sarah Palin said . . .
Unfortunately, Mrs. Palin is a prime example of selective constitutional self-preference. She recently tweeted, “[f]ree speech is endangered species; those ‘intolerants’ hatin’ [sic] & taking on Duck Dynasty patriarch for voicing personal opinion take on us all,” which begs the question; what the hell is she talking about? It would appear that legally unsophisticated individuals such as herself love to toss out the “Free Speech Card” whenever it suits their needs, however choose to remain unmindful as to the true meaning of it.
If you love this country as much as the red, white and blue camping chairs and window flags from Walmart suggests, I would advise taking the time to actually understand the constitutional rights and limitations this country has afforded us. Otherwise, respectfully, I would suggest keeping quiet when proclaiming constitutional rights that don’t exist.