Introducing a new variation: “I’m not a legal scholar, but…” featuring Bobby Jindal, Duck Dynasty, and the 1st Amendment

September 23, 2014

Constitution, Freedom of Speech

Bobby Jindal

Starting this week, I’ll be introducing a new variation of my site’s theme, called “I’m not a legal scholar, but…”

Similar to scientific claims, statements on legal issues can also be clarified, investigated, debunked, or validated based on verifiable evidence.

Let’s start with Bobby Jindal’s statement on A&E’s decision to suspend Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson for homophobic and racially insensitive statements during his interview with GQ.

Governor Bobby Jindal’s official website on December 19, 2013 says the following (Source):

“Phil Robertson and his family are great citizens of the State of Louisiana. The politically correct crowd is tolerant of all viewpoints, except those they disagree with. I don’t agree with quite a bit of stuff I read in magazine interviews or see on TV.  In fact, come to think of it, I find a good bit of it offensive. But I also acknowledge that this is a free country and everyone is entitled to express their views.  In fact, I remember when TV networks believed in the First Amendment. It is a messed up situation when Miley Cyrus gets a laugh, and Phil Robertson gets suspended ”

Here is the problem: Bobby Jindal is a well-educated man on national television perpetuating a myth about the first amendment. 

As a reminder, here’s what the 1st Amendment says:

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.”

He is suggesting that A&E is violating the 1st Amendment by not having Phil Robertson on their channel, but as you will notice, A&E is not mentioned in the text of the Bill of Rights.

Yes, Phil Robertson has the right to express his views. However, A&E is not obligated to disseminate his views to their viewers. Not surprisingly, it is not in their business interests to keep him on their channel, so they made a logical decision.

The problem here is the understanding of positive vs. negative rights. This is a case of a negative right – Phil Robertson and everyone else has a constitutional right to free speech, meaning that the government cannot actively interfere with his right to express his views. On the other hand, private organizations are not obligated to provide a forum for specific individuals to express their views.

Sarah Palin made a similar statement (Source):

Free speech is an endangered species. Those “intolerants” hatin’ and taking on the Duck Dynasty patriarch for voicing his personal opinion are taking on all of us.”

Again, Palin does not understand how the 1st Amendment works. In short, we have a right to free speech, but that does not free us from the consequences of what we say.

It’s important to read what the constitution says before you try to explain it to others.

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About jslachman381

I'm a Yale graduate who majored in History of Science, Medicine, and Public Health.

View all posts by jslachman381

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