A&E’s Decision to Suspend Phil Robertson Is Not a Freedom of Speech Issue

Hate Speech is Not Free Speech

In America, the 1st Amendment guarantees freedom of speech which is the political right to communicate one’s opinions and ideas using one’s body and property to anyone who is willing to receive them. Also included in the 1st Amendment is freedom of religion which is defined as the right to choose a religion (or no religion) and exercise it without interference from the government so long as it does not encroach on other citizens’ rights. There is a minor controversy raging among conservatives and evangelicals over one minor television personality’s right to communicate his opinion based on his religion that the constitutionally challenged have determined is a freedom of speech issue. Whether or not one is inclined towards intellectual masochism by watching A&E’s modern iteration of the Beverly Hillbillies, “Duck Dynasty,” or not, A&E’s decision to suspend one of the show’s stars is not a freedom of speech issue.

The fact that Duck Dynasty’s patriarch, Phil Robertson, was able to voice his bigoted religious opinion and see it in print settles the argument once and for all that his freedom of speech and religion were not interfered with by the government. However, that has not stopped the right-wing from going berserk over A&E, a private entertainment network, exercising their freedom of speech in announcing to their audience that they cut a character from one of their fake reality shows; likely for some sort of breach of contract for damaging the entertainment network’s reputation as tolerant, and arguably supportive, of the gay community. What conservatives fail to acknowledge is that there are no constitutional free speech rights involved in A&E’s decision, except that Sarah Palin, Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal, and a host of bigots at Fox News are attacking A&E for exercising their right to freedom of speech.

It was certain that Palin, as constitutionally challenged as any 2-year old pit bull, would jump on A&E’s decision and claim the network violated Robertson’s freedom of speech. Her claim was particularly hypocritical after she pressured MSNBC’s Phil Griffin to fire Martin Bashir for exercising his freedom of speech. Palin, never one to squander an opportunity to demonstrate why she is, as Martin Bashir said, “America’s dunce” jumped into the fray and warned that “Free speech is an endangered species. Those ‘intolerants’ hatin’ and taking on the ‘Duck Dynasty’ patriarch for voicing his personal opinion are taking on all of us.” She also appeared with Fox’s Sean Hannity sporting a Duck Dynasty uniform (camouflage) and said, “A&E, they were absolutely quacks on this one. This is all about freedom, free speech. You know, so many American families have spilled blood and treasure to guarantee Phil Robertson and everybody else’s right to voice their personal opinion and once that freedom is lost everything is lost in our country.”

Like Palin, Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal was aghast that A&E exercised their freedom as a private entertainment network to indefinitely suspend a character from its fake reality show.  Jindal said, “This is a free country and everyone is entitled to express their views.  In fact, I remember when TV networks believed in the First Amendment.” There are two points that both constitutionally-challenged conservatives fail to comprehend. First, the government did not interfere with Robertson’s political right to communicate his opinion to anyone who is willing to receive them, or prohibit GQ from printing them. Second, there is no First Amendment clause establishing or guaranteeing the right to star in an A&E fake reality show regardless what Robertson said to GQ about anuses, bestiality, and vaginas, or sing the praises of slavery and how blessed African indentured servants in the South were “pre-entitlement, pre-welfare. They were godly; they were happy; and no one was singing the blues.”

Even Fox News employees rushed to defend Robertson, only they exposed what the whole freedom of speech dustup is really about; Americanized Christianity’s godly right to use Old Testament dogmata to defend bigotry. Several Fox people sought to assuage Robertson’s evangelical bigotry by portraying him as a typical bible-thumper espousing mainstream Christianity’s hatred of gays. Sean Hannity explained away Robertson’s hatred of gays by describing him as just a regular American expressing his “old fashioned traditional Christian sentiment and values.” One Fox reporter, Todd Starnes, defended Robertson’s bigotry and asserted that his comments reflected “the teachings of the Bible,” and Dennis Kneale, from Fox Business claimed Robertson had just “stated his religious beliefs.” Yes, he did state his religious beliefs, they were published in GQ, and the government never interfered or attempted to abridge his 1st Amendment right of freedom of speech or prevent GQ from exercising its right of freedom of the press. Still, it has not stopped the right-wing extremists from assailing A&E, not a government entity, for exercising their free speech and free enterprise rights to announce they cut a character out of their fake reality show. The entire sense of outrage informs the only freedom conservatives are interested in defending is evangelicals’ religious freedom to spew hate speech.

Both Palin and Jindal are not concerned about defending Robertson’s freedom of speech any more than Palin defended Martin Bashir’s right to free speech, but they are rabid to defend his right to use religion to express hatred of gays. At least Fox News’ bigots defended Robertson on religious grounds that beg the question; when does homophobia stop becoming religious speech and be what it really is; religious hate speech? Even though more Christians are abandoning the idea that being gay is a sin, the majority of bible-thumping evangelicals like Robertson think that, like Old Testament god, homosexuality is an abomination. Fox, in particular, does not delineate between anti-gay bigotry and Christianity they reveal by treating rabidly anti-gay hate groups like the American Family Association (AFA) and the Family Research Council (FRC) as legitimate and typical Christian organizations. At the rate Fox defended Robertson, it appears that anti-gay extremists are allowed to say anything as long as they claim they are Christians and it is true of everything conservative Christians espouse including  support for anti-women legislation, defense of the rich stealing from the poor, and avid support for Israel at the risk of war with Iran.

Jindal, Palin, and Fox News, or any so-called 1st Amendment Christian conservatives are not defending Robertson’s freedom of speech; they are defending his right to use religion to spew hate speech against gays. Various conservatives, particularly religious conservatives, will and do attack anyone’s freedom of speech, even the Pope’s, if it varies from their personal religious or political beliefs; including the free speech of a private entertainment network for announcing they suspended a character from one of their phony reality shows.


Audio engineer and instructor for SAE. Writes op/ed commentary supporting Secular Humanist causes, and exposing suppression of women, the poor, and minorities. An advocate for freedom of religion and particularly, freedom of NO religion. Born in the South, raised in the Mid-West and California for a well-rounded view of America; it doesn't look good. Former minister, lifelong musician, Mahayana Zen-Buddhist.

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