Most of you reading this have probably heard by now that Phil Robertson, star of A&E’s Duck Dynasty show was indefinitely suspended in a disciplinary action for statements he made in a recent GQ magazine interview. Here’s a specific example of his direct responses to interview questions:
GQ: “What, in your mind, is sinful?”
PR: “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. Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.”
Lots of high-profile political figures on the Right are now voicing their displeasure at what they see is a violation of free speech – Sarah Palin, Bobby Jindal, etc. However, does Phil’s suspension really constitute a violation of free speech? I’ve posted an image of Phil here with the caption “Freedom of speech is not just for liberals” – but let’s see if that statement really applies to Phil’s situation.
The U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights addresses free speech in Article I, Amendment I:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
The First Amendment makes clear the fact that Congress may not restrict an individual’s freedom of speech. It does not guarantee that an individual or company may not do so, however. A&E is a company that uses their discretion to restrict their employees to certain language and behavior, just like any company would. This is legal and constitutional. My personal employment could certainly be terminated if, for example, I was issued a DUI outside of work. Although Phil’s statements were not made directly on the Duck Dynasty show, I believe an employer should retain the legal right to terminate employment for ANY reason. Yes, that’s a very broad claim, and one that should be discussed in separate post. Notice that I said legal right – I did not say unreasonable and unfair termination shouldn’t be met with public boycotts and protests. There is an argument circulating that A&E is justified in their decision because Phil’s language is not appropriate for “the public square,” whatever that means. I can’t see how an article in GQ magazine can be construed as “the public square.” Again, A&E is justified in their decision because it was their decision. In my opinion, no law is constitutional that would force them to employ Phil Robertson against their will.
A&E can be held blameless on a constitutional level, since they do not represent the Federal Government. The question of whether A&E’s decision is moral, fair, or just, however, is an entirely separate issue from the issue of free speech. A&E seems to have taken a fearful, politically-correct stance – afraid they’ll be branded with the homophobia iron.
Phil Robertson has the right to say what he wants, with the knowledge that his employer may not approve, and with an expectation of the resulting consequences. Phil actually did exercise his right to free speech, and no one came from the government to drag him away. He and anyone so inclined have the option to protest and petition A&E publicly on the grounds of whatever arguments of social injustice or unfairness they wish to make – and hopefully they don’t resort to wielding the big stick of government via legislation to accomplish their goals.
After reviewing Phil’s original statements in GQ, I feel that A&E succumbed too quickly to the resulting outraged overreactions of the overly-sensitive, politically-correct crowd. As always, it’s laughably ironic that those who cry the loudest for tolerance are the most intolerant of all. What’s more, Phil’s statements were made outside of the show, not on air – and many, if not most, of his show’s viewers don’t care what Phil says off-show. If the Duck Dynasty show folds because of their decision, it’ll probably be to their detriment financially.
I’ve signed a Change.org petition to bring Phil Robertson back on the show.