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A&E Did Not Violate Phil Robertson’s First Amendment Rights

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Dustin Siggins - published on 12/20/13 - updated on 06/08/17

The First Amendment stops the government from making laws against free speech, not companies choosing who they want to work with.

This week, all Hell broke loose in the social commentary world due to comments by “Duck Dynasty” cast member Phil Robertson about homosexual relationships. I had never heard of the show or Robertson – I don’t own a TV – until the manufactured controversy arose, but this is most of what is causing the ruckus, and led to Robertson’s suspension from “Duck Dynasty” by A&E. From the GQ interview, with the interviewer’s question in bold:
We’re Bible-thumpers who just happened to end up on television,” he tells me. “You put in your article that the Robertson family really believes strongly that if the human race loved each other and they loved God, we would just be better off. We ought to just be repentant, turn to God, and let’s get on with it, and everything will turn around.”
“What does repentance entail? Well, in Robertson’s worldview, America was a country founded upon Christian values (Thou shalt not kill, etc.), and he believes that the gradual removal of Christian symbolism from public spaces has diluted those founding principles. (He and Si take turns going on about why the Ten Commandments ought to be displayed outside courthouses.) He sees the popularity of Duck Dynasty as a small corrective to all that we have lost.
Everything is blurred on what’s right and what’s wrong,” he says. “Sin becomes fine.”
“What, in your mind, is sinful?
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,” he says. Then he paraphrases Corinthians: “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.”
This kerfuffle has led to hundreds of thousands of people joining Facebook groups in support of Robertson, homosexual activists cheering that another conservative Christian has been forced off TV for his views on homosexual relationships – and perhaps most importantly, political opportunism by some conservative politicians that misleads the public on what the First Amendment says.
First, from an e-mail blast by Arkansas State Attorney General candidate David Sterling:
“Did you read about the liberal media attack on Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson for exercising his First Amendment rights? The “politically correct” police are at it again!  The left wing media believes freedom of speech only applies to liberals.  
“We must stand up for our right to express our beliefs, especially ones so fundamental to the freedoms and liberties we enjoy as Americans. 
“As Attorney General I will always defend Arkansans’ freedom of speech. If you stand with Phil Robertson and me, will you donate $25 or even $10 to help defend our constitutional rights?”
Last I heard, the First Amendment is related to Congress’ inability to abridge speech and respect, prohibit, and/or establish a religion. It has nothing to do with the actions of private organizations choosing with whom they want to do business.
Senator David Vitter (R-LA) has also made this error. From his Facebook page:
“The Robertsons have always made it clear they put their faith above all else. Phil is basically being penalized for that, and that’s wrong. Our freedoms of speech and religion are part of what make our country so great, and it’s important to always protect those rights. The liberal media speech police often forget that.”
Again, there appears to have been no government coercion in A&E’s decision. One can oppose their choice to suspend Robertson – as I do – without going into factually inaccurate hyperbole. A Senator of Vitter’s long experience should know better. Yet many comments below his Facebook post show his “leadership” on this non-issue is misleading his constituents on the difference between public and private treatment of religious beliefs.
Should A&E have suspended Robertson? The answer is, undoubtedly, no. As Red State’s Erick Erickson pointed out, this is simply another example of Americans being “made to care” about and for things we may disagree with. Consider the realities of Robertson’s comments, in context:
First, almost everything Robertson said was within standard conservative Christian belief on the matter of homosexual relationships. In fact, he paraphrased the Bible – a pretty strong reference point for Christians.
Furthermore, A&E set this interview up – meaning, it put Robertson on the spot for an interview with someone who would undoubtedly ask about the Christian beliefs A&E has made untold millions of dollars on. While A&E would like to have its cake and eat it, too, the higher-ups at the company should publicly admit that they’ve erred in having the show on the air for several years…or that suspending Robertson was done due to political pressure, and the suspension will be rescinded.
Perhaps most importantly, note that Robertson did not initiate the comments that have caused such a kerfuffle. The reporter asked him for specific examples of sins, and Robertson gave them.
Finally, despite the rhetoric of critics, Robertson did not conflate homosexual relationships with bestiality. He merely listed a number of Biblical sins, and included homosexual relationships among them.
So, yes, conservatives should respond to the manufactured crisis of Robertson’s comments by noting that they shouldn’t have been a big deal in the first place. A&E has spent years making money off of this man that they knew full well to be a Christian. To now punish him because he explicitly expresses Biblical views when pressed by a reporter is the height of hypocrisy.
But we must keep our comments and opinions within the realm of reality and facts. Otherwise, by misunderstanding the Constitution, we put doubt into the idea that we are the movement that relies on correct constitutional interpretation. Furthermore, it will undoubtedly lead to homosexual activists asking why it’s not okay for an employer to punish for religious expression – but it’s acceptable to oppose anti-discrimination laws that aim to protect homosexuals from the same treatment Robertson has received.

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