Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard about the flap caused by Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson’s comments about gay people and black people.
In cases like this one, it’s important to have the facts, beginning with what Robertson actually said:
Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men … It seems like, to me, a vagina—as a man—would be more desirable than a man’s anus. That’s just me. I’m just thinking: There’s more there! She’s got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I’m saying? But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man.
In addition, he offered insights into the historical plight of African Americans:
I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once … They’re singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’—not a word!… Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.
Once you’re clear on what Robertson said, it’s important to know what’s happened since:
– A&E suspended him from the Duck Dynasty show indefinitely.
– Robertson’s family planted the idea that “While some of Phil’s unfiltered comments to the reporter were coarse … Phil would never incite or encourage hate. We are disappointed that Phil has been placed on hiatus for expressing his faith, which is his constitutionally protected right.”
– Conservative pundits and fundamentalist extremists seized this opportunity to grab some headlines for their cause. Sarah Palin’s response on her Facebook page is pretty typical: “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, now, stripped of political or emotional baggage, the facts are these:
– A&E has every right to determine who appears in shows on its network. They’re a company. They’re in business. They have total control over what they choose to broadcast (or not to broadcast). They have total control over who appears on shows they produce (and who won’t appear on those shows).
– Mr. Robertson’s First Amendment rights are absolutely intact. He has not been jailed. His comments were broadly published. He is free to continue to express them on his website, and on any of the many hundreds of media channels eager to hand him their microphones. The fact that the airwaves and Internet are overcome with this story is proof enough that Mr. Robertson’s ability to express his sentiments are in no way impaired.
The right Mr. Robertson and his defenders are pursuing is very much like the right Mr. Dan Cathy of Chick-Fil-A wanted: the right to say anything about anyone … and be insulated from any consequences of having done so.
Does the Constitution protect your right to preach whatever you like? Absolutely.
Does it protect you from the personal, social, and financial consequences of doing so? Absolutely not.