In last month’s Miss USA pageant, Carrie Prejean replied to Perez Hilton that she believed that marriage should be defined as between one man and one woman. That response ignited a controversy that extended well beyond her role as Miss California. The controversy has since snowballed into a soapy opera that is dripping with deceit, pornography, and greed.
This morning Prejean’s crown was pulled from the fire by pageant owner Donald Trump with his pronouncement that she will be permitted to continue her reign. But there is a story here that diverges from the debate over gay marriage and beauty queens. And it’s a story that has just as much impact on Constitutional liberties.
Much of the debate circling around Prejean has been focused on the content of her answer and whether same-sex marriage should be recognized under the law. But underlying that discussion were allegations that she was being discriminated against for her point of view and/or her religion. She was amongst the first to decry what she felt was the violation of her right to free speech. But she was not the last. Numerous pundits piled on with their hysterical assertions that Prejean was not being allowed to speak.
That imaginary allegation peaked this morning with the speech Prejean gave (YouTube) during a news conference with Trump. The speech presented a severely contorted view of the First Amendment and her rights under it. First of all, since there was no government entity involved with any of the alleged stifling, the First Amendment was not violated because the law only applies to suppression by the state. But even her complaints that she was unable to express herself were absurd fabrications. At the press conference she said:
“Three weeks ago I was asked a politically-charged question with a hidden personal agenda. I answered my question honestly and sincerely from my heart […] As [Perez Hilton] was trying to be self-promoting and hateful while I have remained silent since, I am honored to be here today to finally let my voice be heard and address the hateful attacks, despicable rumors and false allegations I have had within the last three weeks.”
I’m not even going to enter into speculation about how Prejean knew there was a “hidden personal agenda” or her disparagement of Hilton as “hateful,” and “self-promoting” (like beauty pageant contestants don’t promote themselves). But her statement that she has “remained silent” until today and that only now can she “finally let [her] voice be heard.” is outright delusional. She has been a fixture on TV news for most of the three weeks since losing the Miss USA pageant. She has been interviewed by Sean Hannity, Neil Cavuto, Megyn Kelly, and Courtney Friel – all of Fox News. In addition she appeared with James Dobson (Focus on the Family), Pat Robertson (700 Club/CBN), and Matt Lauer (Today/NBC). If that represents suppression of speech, what on Earth would free expression require? Perhaps her own primetime network talk show? In her speech she also offered a tearful remembrance of her veteran grandfather:
“On April 19th, on that stage, I exercised my freedom of speech and I was punished for doing so. This should not happen in America. It undermines the Constitutional rights for which my grandfather fought for.”
So what’s all the fuss about about? Here she admits that she was in fact allowed to exercise her freedom of speech. Her assertion that she was punished for doing so is utterly without foundation. Some reports indicate that she was behind in scoring even before her fateful question. It appears that what she is actually bemoaning is that there is also freedom of expression for anyone who happens to disagree with her. She is one of those who believes that free speech is defined as the right to speak your mind without fear of rebuttal.
There is a peculiar irony in the fact that Prejean is so disturbed by her imagined slights; that after flooding the airwaves with her opinions, she perceives herself as being silenced. But she has only praise for Trump and the pageant operators who are affirmatively constricting her public appearances and utterances:
Meanwhile, if Ms. Prejean wants to speak publicly about same-sex marriage in the future, she will have to go through the Miss California USA pageant officials to discuss the platform where she will speak and how she will present her opinion.
“We’re not changing our rules for Carrie,” Keith Lewis, a co-executive director of the California pageant, said in an interview. “We’re bringing her back into compliance with her contract; every appearance is approved by us, every statement is a reflection of us.” He said that if she is asked about her views, she should answer honestly, but that pageant officials would help her “fine tune” her response so that it “is accommodating to both parties.”
Wait a minute. Didn’t she just finish saying that “That should not happen in America?
When people exploit false arguments that rely on claims to Constitutional liberties, they trivialize those liberties. It is a form of crying wolf that harms all of those who have legitimate grievances. Prejean’s views on marriage are her own business, and she has a right to form and convey her opinions as she chooses. But that right does not include imposing a gag on everyone else. She must be tolerant of opposing views and she ought not to wrap herself in the Constitution when her situation is so far removed from any reasonable interpretation of it.
In the case of Carrie Prejean, not only was she not constrained by the government, she was not constrained period. And whining about her perceived victimhood makes for a distinctly unattractive beauty queen.
Update: This was inevitable: Prejean has been tapped to fill in for Gretchen Carlson (Miss America, 1989) on Fox & Friends on May 27. Also, Sarah Palin (Miss Wasilla, 1984) made a statement in support of Prejean wherein she doubled down on the misunderstanding of the First Amendment.