THE BLOG

Lessons in Censorship We Already Knew

01/06/2014 10:01 am ET | Updated Feb 22, 2014
  • Daniel M. Cofall Host of the Dan Cofall Show, a conservative talk-radio program based on constitutionalist and free-market values

If you are a regular listener to my radio show, you know that I had no interest discussing the Duck Dynasty embroilment last month. Everyone had an opinion no matter how many facts we had or didn't have. I said it was a publicity stunt and it turned out to be just that. Most comments were all variations of a theme of censorship.

My, what a waste of time. Recently, it was announced that the network never had any intentions of splitting with Patriarch Phil and that the "indefinite suspension" was designed to placate the activist parts of the LGBT community. Essentially, this hubbub was about nothing. But it did show how ill-informed we are.

Practical censorship exists everywhere in our everyday lives. We say or don't say things that we think might offend. We work with our children to help them find balance in their communications. Often, we put effective communication above the potential to offend and we speak our minds. All are harmless and well intended forms of censorship. Do I comment honestly on my spouse's look? Censorship. Do I really tell a waitperson whether I liked the meal or not? Censorship. Do I tell my children to not discuss family matters in front of others? Censorship.

These forms of censorship are as harmless and well-intended as most "profiling," another act we are told is reprehensible. Yet, just as we censor ourselves and others every day, we also profile. Virtually every decision you make is some form of profiling. Do I find that person attractive or not? Profiling. Do those thuggish people scare me? Profiling. Do you hate buying a new car because you will have to talk to a car salesman? Profiling.

In a truly free society, the only censorship we really need to worry about is governmental censorship that is bound with legal ramifications. Certainly, the Holy Grail here is the First Amendment:

"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 peace-ably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

Real censorship is the death of the Republic. It is repressive; it is chilling; and it destroys the very fabric of our society. But the Duck Dynasty fiasco is commercial speech. The Supreme Court has said that the following are characteristics of "commercial speech" and are, therefore, are not offered full protection under the Constitution:

1. The contents do "no more than propose a commercial transaction."

2. The contents may be characterized as advertisements.

3. The contents reference a specific product.

4. The disseminator is economically motivated to distribute the speech.

We were never bound to the A&E Network. No one forces you to watch it or pay for it. If we don't like their products or their policies, we can turn them off or we can boycott. The power of your consumer dollar is the most effective way to counter bad business practices. But we should never confuse a publicity stunt with real censorship. We face very real censorship in America today.

Americans are allowing their government to engage in an ever-broadening range of freedom-chilling repressive tactics that effectively censor speech determined to be out of bounds by manipulative politicians and their thought police. Massive surveillance blankets are a vile form of censorship. Surveillance suppresses communication for fear of consequences. The surveillance state in which we now live is the most repressive in our history. A government without the watchful eye of an alert media or an involved public finds ways to grow and protect its existence. Technology now provides this protection to an uncontrolled government almost transparently. If the secret police were standing outside your door and listening to everything you said, would you react differently than you do now when they listen from some remote location?

This now admitted publicity stunt had exactly the desired effect and that was to cause controversy, garner attention, and placate the "offended" lobbies and the mission was accomplished. What it should have also shown us is that something as insignificant as this stunt riled the anger of many Americans. It encouraged millions to make their opinions known to the network and the various sponsors. Cracker Barrel Restaurants did a 180 degree turn and restocked Duck Dynasty products and apologized to their customers for removing them. Other retailers are following the turn.

If a simple TV show can move Americans to action, why can't those very same Americans now direct their anger toward our government and our representatives and tell them in very direct and certain terms that we will not accept America as a surveillance and police state. We do not value security above freedoms and, truth be known, that argument is a false choice. The President's own commission on surveillance stated last month that this surveillance state had not been instrumental in preventing acts of terror within the United States.

We have lived in the greatest country this world has ever seen. Only we can let the dream that has provided so much for so many slip through our fingers because we were more concerned about a TV show than of our God-given freedoms and liberties. If A&E offended you and you reached out to them in some way, reach out to your representatives and tell them that they offend you when they let the surveillance state grow. Tell them you will work actively against them if they do not halt the police state progression. Be a person of your word and make a difference where it really matters.