Phil Robertson and “Duck Dynasty” have developed one of the most successful franchises in reality television. The show, aired on the A & E channel, holds a first place rating among viewers. Or, at least it did until Mr. Robertson’s interview with GQ magazine was printed. In that interview Mr. Robertson expressed his personal view on homosexuality which runs contrary to the current cultural trend of acceptance of the LGBT lifestyle. His opinion was an expression of his fundamental Christian beliefs.
A & E responded to the interview almost immediately by “indefinitely suspending Phil Robertson” from his own show. They went on to make a statement that, “They (A & E) have always supported the gay community.” Apparently this has not completely quelled the issue as A & E is getting push back from a large number of their viewers who believe they did not respond appropriately and who are threatening to boycott the network.
There are a number of important issues that this whole controversy raises.
The first, and probably the least consequential, is whether or not a business has the right to conduct itself according to self-imposed standards. My response to that would be, “Yes it does and A & E made its decision based on its well-established philosophy.” Of course, if we accept that premise, does that not imply that a company such as Hobby Lobby has the right to refuse to purchase health insurance which mandates that it provide abortion, prophylactics or abortifacients in contravention of its religious beliefs?
The second is whether Robertson’s opinion is protected by the First Amendment and whether A & E is essentially abridging his right to state his beliefs and therefore violating his constitutional protections. Certainly if he had made his statement in the course of filming an episode, A & E might have the legal right to edit out the comment if if offended their policy. But to take an interview in a different medium as the basis for their action seems to overreach their authority and to be an infringement on Mr. Robertson’s rights. We would do well to remember Voltaire’s statement, “I disagree with what you say but will defend to the death your right to say it.” Whether Mr. Robinson made the statement or withheld it, no doubt it reflects his beliefs. If we invoke cloture on free speech, whether or not we agree with what is said, what is next – restriction of what a person is allowed to think?
Perhaps the most important point this raises is that proponents of PC thinking are engendering the very thing that they purport to correct. They define people not as individuals but as mere subsets of some larger group – whether that is based on race, sex or sexual orientation. Their activities perpetuate all the “isms” and “phobias” which they seek to extinguish. They presume that all gay or straight people, all men or women, all blacks or whites think and act identically based on the way they perceive the group to which the PC police have assigned them think and act. That is ludicrous on its face and obviously untrue. This philosophy strikes at the heart one of their most precious principles – allowing for diversity among members of society.
Whether or not I agree with Phil Robertson is irrelevant. But I believe that those who see this issue only as a matter which pits one individual against a vocal group are missing the point entirely. If we are willing to throw someone under the bus because we might disagree with his beliefs, the question is how much faster are we heading toward the point where our own opinions, however mainstream they might currently be, come under fire and we are told to recant – or else.