The latest example of this truism is the dust-up over the anti-homosexual comments of Phil Robertson, a star of one of those scripted television reality shows, “Duck Dynasty.” Robertson told GQ magazine, an alleged publication for the sophisticated man-about-town, that homosexuals are sinful.
He also said black farm workers were happy before the civil rights movement came along, but it was the anti-gay comments that were judged insensitive and hurtful, prompting the suspension of Robertson from the show by the A&E Network. This in turn prompted all factions of our ongoing cultural wars to mount the ramparts and commence firing. No light, but plenty of heat.
This is the latest incident in the ongoing test of our tolerance for unpopular speech. Talking head Megyn Kelly, making her contribution to Fox News’ annual installment of the war on Christmas, caused a stir when she suggested that Santa Claus and Jesus were white.
At least she kept her job. MSNBC host Martin Bashir wasn’t so lucky after he called former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin “America’s resident dunce” and a “world-class idiot” for comparing U.S. indebtedness to China to slavery.
He topped that off by referring to the diary of plantation owner Thomas Thislewood, who punished his slaves by having others defecate in their mouths. Bashir suggested that Palin was a candidate for such discipline.
This is what passes for public discourse in America today, something I doubt the Founding Fathers had in mind when they adopted the First Amendment to the Constitution that guarantees freedom of expression. But true freedom of speech means tolerating the expression of thoughts and ideas you disagree with.
That hasn’t stopped people who profess their support for the Bill of Rights from trying to suppress speech they don’t like. Conservatives have a long record in this country of trying to ban books, art, movies and other creative expressions that challenge their world view or offend their sensibilities. Then there’s the whole business of creationism vs. evolution.
Liberals are doing their part in our colleges and universities, where conservatives have to tread lightly, and where any expression that’s deemed hurtful or insensitive will bring down the wrath of the thought police.
But we are still ahead of some countries in Europe, where it is against the law to advocate Nazism or question if the Holocaust occurred. Both positions are nonsense, but outlawing them creates a slippery slope that can lead to serious restrictions on freedom of expression.
I’m just glad the Bill of Rights was passed 223 years ago. It would never make it through Congress today.