Phil Robertson & The First Amendment

In Soapbox by Nate Clark

Phil Robertson

Last week, Phil Robertson – star of A&E’s Duck Dynasty – made some off-color (read: “racist” & “homophobic”) remarks in an interview in GQ magazine. Mister Robertson let us know a few of his thoughts about gay sex, such as:

It seems like, to me, a vagina – as a man – would be more desirable than a man’s anus.

And then he went on to imply that African-Americans were actually content under Jim Crow laws:

Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.

Under normal circumstances, comments like these would get me pretty riled up. But normal circumstances would imply a rational, well-respected member of society… someone I considered decent, or at least pursuing decency in his or her own special way.

But Mr. Robertson is not that kind of person. He is the kind of person who anchors a reality television show that is centered around the idea that he is a jackass.

Duck Dynasty is currently the #1 non-fiction show on television, and A&E’s most successful series to date. For those of you (like me) who don’t watch shows like this one, Duck Dynasty chronicles the foolish antics of Phil Robertson and his family… a bunch of wealthy rednecks whose fortune grew from their family business, Duck Commander. (Duck Commander specializes in a popular duck call by the same name.)  The program is just another in a myriad of shows aimed at making the audience feel better about themselves by showcasing the drama and idiocy of some rich halfwits. (See: the Real Housewives of anywhere or anything with a Kardashian in it.)

Phil Robertson was well known to be a racist, homophobic, evangelical preacher long before A&E built this show around his family. They knew what they were getting into from the beginning. More than that, they capitalized on it, and probably still are.

But for some reason (most likely a fear of backlash), A&E decided to suspend/fire Robertson from his show because of the remarks he made in GQ. Score one for the good guys, albeit for the wrong reasons…

And as soon as that happened, some of the more opportunistic trolls from the far-right began to emerge from their caves, led by Sarah Palin, to defend Mr. Robertson’s right to free speech.

Freedom of speech? Say wha-huh?

Senator Ted Cruz offered via Facebook:

If you believe in free speech or religious liberty, you should be deeply dismayed over the treatment of Phil Robertson. Phil expressed his personal views and his own religious faith; for that, he was suspended from his job.

Sarah Palin took to Twitter:

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.

And Ian Bayne, Congressional candidate, even compared Mr. Robertson to Rosa Parks:

“What Parks did was courageous,” he added. “What Mr. Robertson did was courageous too.”

What the hell is wrong with these people? Aside from a conspicuous attempt to get some press, what could possibly motivate a person to compare Phil Robertson’s comments – ignorant, at best – to the struggle of Rosa Parks, civil rights icon?

Oh right… nothing.

Zach Ford did a terrific job delineating Mr. Robertson’s rights under the 1st amendment in a post on ThinkProgress last week. It’s one thing to admit you agree with Mr. Robertson’s remarks, but it is something completely different to invoke the Constitution to defend his right to a job. Much less, his “right” to appear on a reality television show.  The First Amendment, so righteously referred to by Palin, Cruz and company, does not entitle Phil Robertson to any public approval of his hate speech. The Bill of Rights guarantees that Mr. Robertson can speak his opinions freely, without persecution by the government. That’s it. It does not protect him from the consequences of his speech, nor does it guarantee him approval in the court of public opinion.

Phil Robertson has the right to speak his mind. He does not have the right to force an audience to agree with him.

I concur that A&E’s termination of Phil Robertson seems hypocritical. After all, they’re the ones who created (or at least encouraged) this monster.

But firing him is their prerogative. They are a private company and they have – ahem – decided that Phil Robertson’s opinions do not coincide with their opinions or the opinion of their audience. Either that, or they are scared shitless of losing gay, African-American A&E subscribers en masse.

Either way, none of this has anything to do with the First Amendment.


ROLLING STONE: Sarah Palin’s Impressively Incoherent ‘Duck Dynasty’ Comments

HUFFINGTON POST: Ian Bayne, GOP Congressional Candidate: ‘Duck Dynasty Star Is Rosa Parks Of Our Generation’

SLATE: There Are Two Americas, and One Is Better Than the Other

THINK PROGRESS: Why The Racist And Homophobic ‘Duck Dynasty’ Comments Have Nothing To Do With Free Speech