Miss California, Carrie Prejean Source (CC)
This week Carrie Prejean has been making headlines once again because of an investigation into some semi-nude photos that may have disqualified her from retaining her crown as Miss California. As it turned out, pageant owner Donald Trump allowed her to retain her crown, saying "We've made a determination that the pictures taken were acceptable. Some were risque, but we are in the 21st century."
Furthermore, he defended her answer to Perez Hilton during the Miss USA Pageant and started another controversy by saying "It's the same answer the president of the United States gave. It's the same answer many people gave. She gave an honorable answer. She gave an answer from her heart, and I think for that she has to be commended."
Last month when the controversy broke, I wrote in defense of Carrie Prejean, arguing that her answer exemplified perfect tolerance and noting that she "did not say that gay marriage should remain illegal in the other states. She said in fact, that she thinks it's great that Americans can choose one or the other." Though I did criticize her for fumbling over the answer, not directly addressing the question, and not offering the best possible answer (which I formulated at the end of the post). Well today I have some sharper criticisms for her, particularly for the speech she gave at the press conference with Donald Trump.
She said: "On April 19 on that stage I exercised my freedom of speech, and I was punished for doing so. This should not happen in America," thereby turning her loss of the Miss USA title into a free speech issue. But it's not! The government did not punish her for her answer, a private organization did and that is not a violation of her freedom of speech.
Over at Big Hollywood, Melanie Morgan compares the media controversy over Miss Prejean's answer to 1950s era McCarthyism:
Leo Penn, the father of famous actor Sean Penn, was hauled before the House Committee on Un-American Activities (the McCarthy hearings) during the 1950s and harassed, spied upon and ultimately blacklisted for his political views.
But no one is dragging Miss Prejean before Congress to testify about her beliefs, and the government is not involved. A private beauty pageant and several private media companies are. The Miss USA pageant does not owe Carrie Prejean a crown and it is free to award or not award her a crown according to whatever criteria it chooses, including disliking her political beliefs. That criterion may be wrong and you may disagree with it (as I do in this case), but that doesn't mean Prejean's rights are being violated.
In her editorial, Morgan goes on to ask: "So where are the free-speech warriors? How about Sean Penn and the rest of the Hollywood elitists who think the First Amendment was written solely for their benefit?" How were her free speech rights being violated? Because the rest of the media has exercised its free speech rights in criticizing what she said? The way the article reads, Morgan seems to be suggesting that Carrie Prejean's freedom of speech somehow nullifies the rest of ours. That to criticize her for speaking is a violation of her freedom of speech. But what about our freedom of speech?
Everyone has the right to say what they want about Carrie Prejean's political beliefs no matter how wrong, stupid, or ugly. And everyone else has the right to say that those criticisms are wrong, stupid, and ugly. So far, I have exercised my own freedom of speech to defend Prejean, to criticize her critics, to criticize Prejean, and to defend her critics. Figure that out! It's amazing how the fierce pursuit of truth leads you to see all the nuance in controversies such as this.
Hopefully the world will come to understand that the proper exercise of our freedom of speech, is in the earnest pursuit of truth, uninhibited by forcible interference from others. Hopefully we will all begin to see that misunderstanding and misrepresenting this fundamental human right does great injury to it. Here's hoping.