A&E has indefinitely suspended Phil Robertson, the star of the runaway hit, “Duck Dynasty,” from appearing in the show, in the wake of his recent statements about gays.
In an interview in GQ magazine, when the interviewer asked Robertson which behaviors are sinful, he cited the Bible, and also responded, “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.” Within the same interview, he also described why, in his opinion, homosexual intercourse is unnatural.
GLAAD vs. Phil Robertson
The GLAAD organization, which supports the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual) community by holding the media accountable for the anti-LGBT words and images they present, leaped into action. GLAAD confronted the A&E network, which hosts “Duck Dynasty,” with the complaint that Robertson used vile stereotypes to express his views about gays.
GLAAD maintained that Robertson effectively equated bestiality and promiscuity with homosexuality, essentially disparaging that lifestyle choice. A&E immediately responded by placing Robertson on indefinite hiatus from filming, saying that it is extremely disappointed about his comments.
Duck Dynasty Suspension: Instantaneous Backlash
The response to A&E’s actions has been fast and furious. A spokesperson for GLAAD said he has never before received so many angry, attacking calls and social media posts. Pundits from all across the political spectrum have complained that A&E acted discriminatorily by punishing Robertson for his clearly religious views. Both Change.org and IStandWithPhil.com, a site associated with the Christian group Faith Driven Consumers, garnered an astronomical number of signatures on petitions demanding Robertson’s reinstatement.
Furthermore, supporters of free speech argued that Robertson’s suspension violates the right to free speech and first amendment rights. They argue that Robertson is a well-known religious figure who was quoting the Bible and expressing his religious beliefs. These supports feel that he honestly, albeit crudely, articulated the sincere Christian view about the sinful nature of homosexuality. Thus, punishing him for his words is tantamount to punishing him for holding religious ideals.
What Happened to First Amendment Rights?
While people should be free to speak freely, firing someone for an unfortunate comment does not violate a constitutional right. Kermit Roosevelt, a law professor quoted by ABC News, explains that the First Amendment applies only to the government. In other words, the government may not punish someone for expressing his or her beliefs, but a private employer has every right to burnish its image by preventing free speech.
While the government is forbidden to determine which opinions are correct, individuals may distinguish between offensive and acceptable speech. According to U.S. law, a company that fires someone for having what the company considers to be distasteful opinions is fully within its rights. Companies are not allowed to discriminate against employees because of their religious beliefs, but they may discriminate against employees for their actions, even if those actions were religiously driven. Therefore, A&E was fully within their legal rights to place Phil Robertson on hiatus.
A Frightfully PC Society?
Political Correctness, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, means, “Conforming to a belief that language and practices which could offend political sensibilities (as in matters of sex or race) should be eliminated.” According to this definition, the A&E network was behaving in an indubitably PC manner. It wanted to avoid offending viewers, particularly those who believe that homosexuality is not sinful, and chose to suspend Mr. Robertson accordingly.
Some conservatives, such as The Washington Times’ Al Maurer, maintain that political correctness has nothing to do with politics, and everything to do with brainwashing. Maurer says that because the opinions of Mr. Robertson contradict some people’s beliefs that homosexuality is not a sin, they believe that his opinions persecute him. He explains that this illustrates how PC speech imposes certain approved ways of thinking onto society, penalizing those who think differently.
Avoiding Discussions to Avoid Offense
BJ Gallagher, a sociologist, has a different concern about political correctness: That it stymies the free exchange of ideas. Gallagher believes that the original goals of PC were beneficial, in that they encouraged sensitivity to others’ feelings, but the actual outcome has been negative. In order to maintain political correctness, people altogether avoid important discussions about gender, race, religion, and, yes, sexual orientation. Thus, any meaningful discussion about diversity issues has been quashed. She wonders how people can ever live and work comfortably together if they cannot speak about differences and varying perspectives.
According to the millions of people who disagree with A&E’s decision, Maurer and Gallagher are correct. Political correctness has gone too far, creating a sense of risk around the expression of personal opinions.