Whether Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson was right or wrong in his comments on the issue of homosexuality is secondary to the central issue behind A&E’s decision last week to place the reality show boss on an “indefinite hiatus” from filming.
In a nation that is deeply divided along partisan political lines, there is perhaps no issue more polarizing than that single issue, and it isn’t even a right vs. left, conservative vs. liberal or Christian vs. agnostic debate. Obviously there are going to be some who agree with statements such as the one Robertson made and some who disagree. Both sides are going to be vehement in their support or opposition, and there won’t be much middle ground between them. Chances are, no one understood that more than Robertson — a grizzly 67-year-old who has spent his entire life as a football player-turned-duck call maker-turned-reality TV star not really caring what other people think about his points of view.
But from where I stand, the issue most germane to this discussion is Robertson’s right to express himself. It has been said by some pundits that A&E’s decision to suspend Robertson is not a free speech issue. Robertson has a right to express himself, and so does A&E. Robertson did so with his comments to the GQ magazine writer, and A&E did so by suspending him.
That’s true to a point. A&E’s move might be hypocritical — they end every show with prayer and the Robertsons’ Christian values are as central to the show as killing ducks, and A&E reacts strongly to a show member’s stance on a traditional Christian point-of-view? — but it isn’t a free speech issue. Not per se. But the root of the issue is a bit deeper than that. When only one side of any issue can freely express themselves without efforts by activists and politicians, with the heavy-handed involvement of America’s mainstream news media, to shun them from society, that is a dangerous detriment to free speech.
Frankly, I found Robertson’s remarks a little crude and a little distasteful. He could’ve made his stance on the issue clear, without compromising his beliefs, without being so crass. My biggest admiration of the Robertsons and their TV show is their family-oriented theme. My 7-year-old son is a huge fan, and I can let him watch without my supervision because I don’t have to worry about the content. Robertson’s remarks weren’t something I would want my 7-year-old reading. And that’s disappointing.
But a lot of men have died over the years for Robertson’s right to say what he wants to say, even if he’s wrong. That so many people would cheer for any one person to be denied that right is both disturbing and alarming. And it should be a wake-up call for the rest of us.
■ Ben Garrett is editor of the Independent Herald. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.