All over Facebook, many people are talking about Duck Dynasty, freedom of speech, and what Phil Robertson’s comments mean to the gay community as well as to our society at large. People of every sexual orientation are weighing in, some supporting Robertson and others condemning him for his comments. Those in support of Robertson are focused on one battle cry: “freedom of speech.”
In order to examine the cultural significance of Robertson’s comments, it’s important to first examine what freedom of speech really means. Those supporting Robertson seem to think that freedom of speech means the freedom to say whatever we want, anytime, about anything or anyone, without suffering any consequences whatsoever. That’s where Robertson’s supporters are drastically mistaken.
Freedom of speech in America means that we can say most things without being thrown in jail. That’s it. That’s all that freedom of speech means, and that’s all it was ever intended to mean. Freedom of speech does not mean we can slam a group of people, use hate speech, compare gays to criminals or spread vitriol on national television and not face consequences from people who are offended by what we say.
It’s important to make that distinction because it provides the framework for a fair discussion of the consequences Robertson suffered by being suspended from A&E’s Duck Dynasty. Robertson’s champions, generally Christian, conservative and in support of private businesses being able to do whatever they want (remember the outcry over the bakery and the gay wedding cake?) have suddenly become in favor of private businesses not being able to do whatever they want. Wouldn’t that be called hypocrisy?
The fact is, A&E, as a private entity, can do whatever it wants when it comes to its employees saying offensive things, just as any other business in the United States can. Many businesses have strict anti-discrimination policies in place, and no one would raise an eyebrow over the enforcement of such a policy at any other privately owned company. Conversely, other companies welcome people to state their opinions no matter what that opinion is, including this newspaper, the Guardian Liberty Voice. Those companies also have the right to allow that without disciplining anyone for what they say.
Facebook commenter Rob Van Meter pointed out the hypocrisy of the community supporting Robertson; the same community who generally thinks private enterprises have the right to run their companies as they see fit, in a comment earlier today, saying:
CHECKMATE, REDNECKS. A&E owns their own Network…A&E is making their own decision based on their own business plan. Remember what you guys said about the “free market” and Chick Fil A? Now who are the whiny babies who want special rights?? The Duck Dynasty has every right to buy their own TV station and put out whatever they want. This is America, remember? And don’t forget your belief that Hobby Lobby cannot provide birth control in their health plans because of religious freedom… We can’t change the constitution every five minutes to fit the latest situation where you have offended someone or feel them having rights somehow affects yours. So let’s get this straight, are private companies allowed to conduct business how they want to or not? What’s it gonna be?
Other commenters spoke of how Robertson’s comments affected them personally. Kristin Baer Nelson said the comments were insulting to her friends and questioned the reason Robertson didn’t instead choose to attack other groups who actually deserved criticism:
No – I do NOT appreciate what Phil Robertson said…You see – THAT is what religion does to people – it makes them stupid & mean. You take an otherwise funny, intelligent person whom I really admired, then he spouts off about his religious beliefs & insults my friends…People like that are bigots & make me sick. Every anti-gay/Christian friend I have will be posting their “support” for his comments. I say shame on them! Why doesn’t he go after…the KKK? Or child molesters? No, he has to reserve his insults for innocent people just trying to live their lives & not bother anyone else. To me, hating gay people is the equivalent to being a racist. You are judging people off something they cannot control.
Others pointed out that Robertson didn’t seem to be practicing what he was preaching, and that his remarks have ruined their enjoyment of Duck Dynasty. Facebook commenter Linda Lopizzo explained:
I was not shocked. I’m surprised he didn’t say it earlier than he did. Religion is always mentioned as a huge part of their life in a “love and forgive” way, but you had to know it was lingering underneath. Phil’s age, his religion along with where and how he grew up makes me believe there is racism along with his anti-Gay views. I liked the show. I liked how close the family is and I liked the rags to riches story through education, hard work and ingenuity. I did know I was on borrowed time, though; that any minute Phil or Sy would start talking Tea Party. I did assume women’s issues would be his first offensive remarks. No, I was not surprised at his remarks, just saddened by them and the fact that with all his religious talk he was not able to practice all that love he was preaching.
Emotions run deep over Robertson’s comments, and those emotions are informing A&E’s decision to suspend Robertson from Duck Dynasty “indefinitely.” Society only progresses when the offense people feel at hate speech spills over into real consequences for such speech. Consequences, such as the steps A&E have taken to suspend Robertson, tell society that speaking against gays in a hateful way such as comparing them to people who engage in bestiality, simply isn’t acceptable anymore.
Just as it is no longer acceptable to spew racist comments, so it is not acceptable to down the gay community with false and unfair comparisons. That’s called progress. We have come together, collectively, as a society to say “No. Speaking with hatred against gays is wrong, and it is offensive, and we don’t accept it. You can do it, but if you do it, there will be cultural consequences.”
Phil Robertson has been suspended from Duck Dynasty, but make no mistake-he has enjoyed, and will continue to enjoy, freedom of speech. He won’t be jailed for his comments, nor should he be; but yes, he will suffer consequences, and rightly so, because we don’t want to hear vitriol against gays anymore, and it’s just too bad for those who disagree.
An Editorial By: Rebecca Savastio