I tried. I really tried. I tried to avoid wading into the “Duck Dynasty” kerfuffle, but sometimes the derp gets so deep that you can’t avoid stepping in it.
Such is the case with the Phil Robertson saga. Robertson, as you probably know by now, is the 67-year-old patriarch of a family that has a hit TV show on the A&E network. He recently was quoted in a magazine article as saying that homosexuality is a sin while adding his take on Scripture: “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.”
Robertson has every right to speak his opinions, regardless of whether or not you agree with them. But it’s not his comments that offer an embarrassment of ignorance; it’s the reaction to them. Because, in being temporarily suspended by A&E before being reinstated, Robertson somehow became a cause célèbre for defenders of the First Amendment.
Sarah Palin, for example, never missing an opportunity to lower the level of discourse, used the controversy as an occasion to say that free speech is “an endangered species.” Mike Huckabee said, “Stand with Phil and support free speech.” And somebody took it upon themselves to create a Facebook meme equating the bearded Robertson men with the three bearded wise men who expressed their Christian faith some 2,000 years ago — which must set some sort of record for cognitive dissonance.
Personally, I disagree with Robertson’s interpretation of Christianity. And yet it is others’ gross misinterpretation of the First Amendment that is painfully offensive.
You see, nobody was telling Robertson that he couldn’t express his beliefs; A&E simply briefly and rightly told him he couldn’t be on their TV network. That is not a First Amendment issue; that is a business decision. And when the network realized that those offended by Robertson’s comments aren’t the type to be watching the show anyway, it made another business decision and reinstated him.
If Robertson had been thrown in jail for expressing his views, then free speech would, indeed, be an endangered species and Sarah Palin might be correct for a change. And the fact that some people in the United States can’t understand those differences is aggravating.
Not First Amendment issue
Look at it this way: I get paid to share my opinion by writing columns for The Columbian. But I’m sure there are some opinions that could get me suspended or fired by my bosses; I don’t know that for certain, and I don’t plan to test the hypothesis. If, for some reason, I did get fired, unless my employer was having me tossed in jail for my opinion, that would be a case of poor judgment on their part, but not a First Amendment issue.
Free speech doesn’t mean that you can say something asinine and not be criticized for it. It means simply that you can say it without being punished by the government, a right that this country blessedly considers inviolate. As Evelyn Beatrice Hall wrote in distilling the views of Voltaire, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” She didn’t mention anything about defending your right to be on a TV show.
Still, I worry about those who were so quick to come to the defense of Phil Robertson. The knee-jerk reaction was to consider the suspension to be an attack on Robertson’s religious beliefs, rather than to give thought to the man behind those beliefs.
In the same interview, Robertson claimed that before the Civil Rights movement, black people were “singing and happy,” and that, “pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, they were godly, they were happy, no one was singing the blues.” And now an old speech has surfaced in which he says that men should seek to marry girls who are 15 or 16 years old.
Robertson’s White Knights haven’t weighed in yet on that one. Sometimes, apparently, the derp just gets so deep that you drown in it.