Phil Robertson, patriarch of the wildly popular clan, was recently suspended by the show’s network A&E for controversial statements he made regarding homosexuals and African-Americans. Fans of the show have reacted strongly to the suspension, threatening boycotts, calling the network to protest, and signing petitions to have Robertson reinstated. Prominent conservatives, among them Sarah Palin and Governor Bobby Jindal of the Robertson’s home state of Louisiana, have publicly supported Robertson’s right to “free speech”.
That Robertson would make such statements is not surprising, not even to me and I’ve never even seen the show. But I do know the type of audience Duck Dynasty panders to, and it’s the type of audience that finds pronouncements like Robertson’s not only something to be supported and applauded, but something that is — pun intended — a no-brainer. To their way of thinking, these aren’t just opinions, they’re a matter of fact: of course gays are sinners; of course gays are deviants and perverts and being gay just naturally leads to promiscuity and bestiality; of course African-Americans were happier and more godly before the Civil Rights Act messed everything up. Of course. Everyone knows that — at least, everyone in their neck of the swamp. The ludicrousness of these beliefs is obvious to the rest of the folks living out here in the land of lucid thought.
The hypocrisy was also no surprise. That A&E’s suspension of an employee over bigoted comments is an outrage and an affront to free speech while Martin Bashir’s “resignation” from MSNBC over his rant at GOP darling Sarah Palin was perfectly justified is about as clear an example of hypocrisy as I’ve seen since the Dixie Chicks brouhaha. An employer has the right to punish an employee for things they say or do that may be detrimental to the company. It’s true for MSNBC, and it’s true for A&E. You can’t have it both ways.
The comments from Palin and Jindal are, to me, particularly mind-boggling. These are people that are or have been at the forefront of government — Sarah Palin was a breath away from being Vice-President, for heaven’s sake! — and yet they lack a fundamental understanding of the law and of the Constitution which they wave like a Gadsden flag every chance they get. The Robertson suspension is not a free speech issue; it is not a First Amendment case. Robertson is not being restricted, censored, or punished by the government, only by his employer. And per this country’s right-to-work laws his employer has the right to restrict, censor, and punish its employees for any number of offenses laid out in the employment contract, which you can bet was absolutely airtight. I have to ask myself: why do I know these distinctions, and people like Palin and Jindal, whose job it is (or was) to know these things, do not?
One more thing: this is also not a discrimination case. Phil Robertson is a rich white male reality TV star; none of these things make him a protected class. As far as the religious element is concerned, he was not denied employment due to his faith, and he was not suspended because of it. He was suspended because he had a very public case of foot-in-mouth disease and A&E took the steps they needed to take to protect themselves. If those claiming religious persecution want to take up this fight, they need to realize they’re going to have to fight in the name of all religions, not just Christianity. We all know how far that would fly, don’t we? “Wait, that means that Muslims and Jews can say whatever they want, too? Oh no, we can’t have that.”
Phil Robertson has the absolute right to hold whatever opinions he wants and to voice them. His employer has the right to punish him for it. His supporters have the right to make their indignation known. And we have the right to tell them how wrong they are.
External links & references
- A&E Puts ‘Duck Dynasty’ Star on Hiatus Following Anti-Gay Comments
- ‘Duck Dynasty’ Star Phil Robertson Claims Black People Were ‘Happy’ Pre-Civil Rights
- On Sarah Palin’s Impressively Incoherent ‘Duck Dynasty’ Comments
- Bobby Jindal Defends ‘Duck Dynasty’ Star who Compared Homosexuality to Bestiality
Image: Daviniodus via Flickr