Why the “Free Speech” Defense for Anti-Gay Remarks is a Lame Duck

Phil Robertson, outspoken patriarch of the internationally aired A&E show Duck Dynasty, is in hot water for his anti-gay views that came to mainstream attention in a recently released interview with GQ Magazine in which he compared being gay to bestiality.

Said Robertson in the interview:

“It seems like, to me, a vagina—as a man—would be more desirable than a man’s anus. That’s just me. I’m just thinking: There’s more there! She’s got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I’m saying? But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical.”

And, paraphrasing Corinthians:

“Everything is blurred on what’s right and what’s wrong. Sin becomes fine. … 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.”

We could go on, because there is a lot of patronizing “saving the homosexuals with our judgment-free love” talk from Robertson, but you get the picture.

In case you’ve missed the record-breaking Duck Dynasty (or, like me, wish you had), it’s a “reality” TV series on A&E depicting the lives of the Robertson family, a family of religious conservatives who got rich from their family-operated business Duck Commander, which makes products for duck hunters.

The Robertson men, which includes brothers Phil and Si, and Phil’s sons Jase, Willie and Jep, all share a similar appearance with near-trademark beards and, not to be forgotten, a serious religious conviction of the evangelical variety. Beyond the series, they have become a merchandise-selling powerhouse, with several New York Times best-selling books, and a variety of other products that can be found in a variety of stores, like Cracker Barrel.

With this in mind you’ll understand why, when the gay rights groups started complaining, A&E and the Duck Dynasty sponsors were keen to put a football field of distance between themselves and Robertson’s remarks. A&E issued a statement saying:

We are extremely disappointed to have read Phil Robertson’s comments in GQ, which are based on his own personal beliefs and are not reflected in the series ‘Duck Dynasty.’ His personal views in no way reflect those of A&E Networks, who have always been strong supporters and champions of the L.G.B.T. community.

Robertson, A&E said, was henceforth suspended from the show. Then it turns out the whole family is on a break because they aren’t filming until the new year and that, at that point, Robertson might return — so not really a suspension, more a festive holiday.

Nevertheless, rather than acting contrite, Robertson has done exactly what anyone familiar with his TV persona would have thought he might: refused to back down or quiet down. He’s quoted as saying:

“I am just reading what was written over 2,000 years ago. Those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom. All I did was quote from the scriptures, but they just didn’t know it. Whether I said it, or they read it, what’s the difference? The sins are the same, humans haven’t changed. If you give them the bad news, they’ll start kicking and screaming. But you love them more than you fear them, so you tell them.”

Robertson has seen quite a number of people rush to his defense. Fox News, naturally, has carried several pieces in recent days claiming Robertson is the victim of the “minority rights” lobby and their so-called bullying tactics.

Sarah Palin and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal are both moaning about “the politically correct crowd,” or as Palin tweeted:

“Free speech is an endangered species: Those ‘intolerants’ hatin’ & taking on Duck Dynasty patriarch for voicing personal opinion take on us all.”

Ah, but there’s a small problem here.

Does the “free speech” defense apply when in the same interview Robertson claimed that African Americans were potentially happier pre-civil rights and where he implied that the dehumanization of African Americans through Jim Crow laws wasn’t as widespread a reality as verified historical records would have us believe?

For some reason, Fox News, Sarah Palin and all Robertson’s defenders haven’t rushed to defend those comments. In fact they’re behaving like they were never uttered at all. That silence speaks volumes.

Also, no one would deny that Robertson has the right to say whatever trickles through his brain, or parrot whatever beliefs he holds. A&E has in fact built a show around it — which makes their reacting to Robertson’s statements as though they came out of nowhere seem slightly suspect, but I digress.

Robertson doesn’t, however, have the privilege to say whatever he likes without having those statements judged, evaluated, questioned and, potentially, refuted and criticized. None of us do, and especially those of us who have knowingly engaged with the media spotlight.

Let’s be honest: the “free speech” defense is a lame duck that is quacked when people are taken aback about being challenged on their beliefs when they arrogantly assumed those beliefs were beyond criticism. It’s the perfect example of trying to play the victim.

There is one thing to come out of this though: A&E’s next series of Duck Dynasty, already filmed and with Robertson appearing in several episodes, is probably going to be another record breaker. Something to look forward to then.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.


Kathy Johnson
Kathy Johnson3 years ago

his freedom of speech was in tact, he was not arrested. The government did not in any way punish him. Free speech means that the GOVERNMENT cannot punish you for speaking your mind

Chazz York jr
Chazz York4 years ago

I fully agree Roberta.. I simply referred to Paula to make the point. She was both a woman and did this thing years ago and was severely punished while he was now, and a man and was kept on his show. Is it just me or does that seem incredibly sickeningly wrong to the rest of you? I just wanted to set the field so that we look from multiple angles to see what appears to be sexual discrimination on multiple levels. Paula was a white woman... Gays are every race but it was a man making the sick statements.. It is like they are saying it is OK because it was about gays and it was said by a man. I am just not willing to be OK with that, or to sweep the implications of wrongfully biased decision making under the carpet for those who hurt us with their ignorant hate. That was truly all I was saying.

Nils Anders Lunde
PlsNoMessage se4 years ago

All this debate, hatetalk and negativity shows clearly that WE (and WE are all humans regardless color, he/she, thin/fat, small/big and so forth) are not equal. IF we where there would not been any discussion on this or other matters :-)

Michael A.
Michael A4 years ago

Wish they would go away, I'm sick of hearing about them.

Danuta Watola
Danuta W4 years ago

thanks for an interesting post

Jan H.
J. H4 years ago

Just to clarify... I mean higher standards PERSONALLY, not government imposed.

Jan H.
J. H4 years ago

Never heard of Phil Robertson before, don't know what Duck Dynasty is.... and glad of it. But apparently there are a lot of people who watch and give credence to idiots. We need higher standards.....

Roberta G.
Roberta G4 years ago

Chazz, I agree. But I don't know if Paula Deen completely deserved what she got. Didn't she and her family make racial remarks years ago, while Robertson made his sick remarks a week or so ago? I just don't like the idea of holding someone completely responsible NOW, for remarks made at a different time and place.

Chazz York jr
Chazz York4 years ago

Isn't it amazing you all? Paula Dean and or her family made sick racial remarks, and she lost her career on TV, deservedly I might add... This dumb jerk bashes gays verbally and is being kept on his show. To me, neither offenses have anything to do with free speech. That kind of hate shouldn't still exist but since it does I find it sickening being rewarded instead of following Dean's path which was to be kicked to the curb... It is all just wrong no matter which subject it is. Hate is hate.

Vicky P.
Vicky P4 years ago

agree, it is stupid. Hate speech isn't free speech, you can still go to jail under the law