Phil Robertson : A Guide to (Smart) Freedom of Speech

By now, we all know that television network A&E has put Duck Dynasty clan leader Phil Robertson on suspension for comments he made in an interview for GQ magazine. Those comments were especially disparaging to homosexuals, as Robertson in essence compared homosexuality to bestiality amongst other statements that weren’t exactly kosher. To be honest, I would have thought his comments about Louisiana being perfectly fine during the Jim Crow law time period would be more offensive, but in today’s society gay is the new black.

To be clear, Robertson is allowed to have his own opinions. He is more than entitled to say things that don’t include making threats to the POTUS or falsely shouting “fire” in a crowded theater. Which, his comments were not either one of these things. He is more than allowed to say what he did.

Which is why he’s not going to jail over this. Robertson exercised his freedom of speech perfectly fine. There will be no legal consequences for his actions. But, as we have seen, there are private repercussions.

Does anybody remember the movie Die Hard with a Vengeance where Bruce Willis’ character was forced to wear a walking sign on the streets of Harlem, which prominently featured the “n” word? This case is very similar. Willis isn’t stepping outside his bounds as far as free speech goes. He is, however stepping outside the bounds of good taste and intelligent thinking. He also must realize that his actions are going to incite a certain response and reaction from the native population. In other words, he’s probably going to get killed. It’s the same thing with Robertson (minus the getting killed part). He’s allowed to make certain remarks, he just needs to realize that made in such a public forum that it is going to garner him a certain reaction which he must be prepared to deal with its fallout.

I’m sure that somewhere in his contract, A&E has reserved the right to put any cast members on suspension for any matter of things, especially public comments that could reflect on the television company. This is not wrongful termination, or even termination at all (it’s a suspension, not a firing). Robertson made comments that could hurt the reputation of the company, and the company has to take disciplinary action, plain and simple.

People also fail to realize that before Duck Dynasty was ever a thought for a TV show, that A&E existed as a company. They don’t need Duck Dynasty to survive. They are not committing suicide as a company. In fact, they have probably cashed out so hard on the popularity of this show in the past three years, that they could go a decent amount of time with it on ice and still be fine. It’s not their wallet they care about, it is instead their reputation. In all likelihood, it’s a suspension based on a breach of contract of some type, so they would have to go back on their signed intent in the first place if they were to not suspend Robertson.

Phil Robertson is entitled to his freedom of speech which he exercised. But he then must understand that whatever comments he makes, he is also subject to other people’s (including A&E) freedom of reprisal. This is not an attack on Christianity, it’s a suspension of a man for being dumb enough to not just answer questions honestly, but to take them a step further. If he was Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Wicca, Buddhist, what have you, it wouldn’t have mattered. If he made those comments he would still have been suspended no matter what. It may have been a “trap” by GQ to make him answer these questions, but Robertson is also entitled to the freedom of being smart enough not to answer those questions, or answer them in a different manner.

This all being said, I don’t care enough about these ZZ Top lookalikes and their scripted show to be sad or anything about this outcome. Just be aware that if you’re going to comment on it, I expect you to be intelligent enough to think the entire situation through.

Oh, and in case you’re curious. Remember the government shutdown? There’s more important things to be paying attention to right now, like THE BUDGET FOR THE GOVERNMENT BEING VOTED ON. Kind of the whole reason there was a shutdown in the first place. But, I’ll let you get back to your cable programs in the meantime.

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