Could A&E’s Suspension of “Duck Dynasty” Star Phil Robertson, For His Biblically-Inspired “Free Speech,” Be The Final “Spark” That “Ignites” Civil Discord Between A Hopelessly Divided America?

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So unless your living in a cave, or under a rock, you should know Phil Robertson was recently suspended indefinitely from the popular show “Duck Dynasty” (an A&E / Walt Disney production) for potentially offensive comments he recently made against the Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender (LGBT) community.  How did such a super-star fall from grace with A&E while helping to obtain their best ratings yet?  Well, in a recent interview, when asked his opinion about homosexuality, he had the audacity to quote scripture, and compare it to bestiality!  Since he uttered his controversial if not Biblical opinion, the fall-out of his indefinite suspension from the show has been a domino-effect of out-rage by the religious right, and supporters of the First Amendment.   Now for those who may have forgotten, the First Amendment to the United States Constitution “prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion, impeding the free exercise of religion, abridging the freedom of speech, infringing on the freedom of the press, interfering with the right to peaceably assemble or prohibiting the petitioning for a governmental redress of grievances.” (Wikipedia).  Furthermore, regardless of which side of the cultural-rift you find yourself on, it is pretty much universally accepted that “freedom of speech” means having the right to say what you think, regardless of whether you offend others or not. 

In other words, the First Amendment is supposed to protect our freedom of speech by ensuring no law will be passed neither Federally, nor at the State level, to limit us from speaking our minds in public (with some important limitations -like you can’t yell “fire!” in a crowded movie theater – and “hate speech” has it’s limits as well).  Nevertheless, all this freedom leads to some unusual paradoxes, like even though the Civil Rights Movement has altered America forever by ending segregation, the KKK still has the right to make racist speeches in public.  But ironically, the same freedom of speech also ensures the LGBT community gets the right to promote and advocate for their “alternative” lifestyle in public, regardless of what a majority of Conservative Americans may think of their lifestyle.  Likewise, even Muslims have the right to promote their Islamic perspectives in public despite the 9/11 terrorist attack (supposedly orchestrated by Islamic fundamentalists), albeit at their own peril, due to the pervasive and rampant Islamaphobia spreading like wild-fire across the Nation.  Ultimately, however, the exercise of such freedom (without fear of governmental retribution) is what “tolerance” is all about!  But we all should know freedom of speech does have its limits, and no one should allow oneself to be naive enough to think that just because one may think one is protected from Federal or State interference in exercising one’s freedoms, that does not mean if one is irresponsible with one’s own freedom, severe consequences won’t soon follow from other sources.

For example, a network like A&E (or Walt Disney) is a corporate entity trying to make a profit, and has the right to decide who and what they put on their TV station to ensure the maximum amount of advertising revenue.  So once they discover something about a contracted actors/actresses character or mentality (revealed by that person’s decision to exercise their 1st amendment rights off-set in a non-scripted magazine interview), we shouldn’t be surprised if the network then uses that new public information to make adjustments or new decisions about current or future programming and employment on their privately owned network!

Remember Howard Cosell’s “little monkey” comment, that caused his radio sports broadcasting career to prematurely end, or how about Paula Dean’s “fall from grace” more recently for admitting she used the “n” word in public. The same fate will surely befall current and future Christians who make negative comments about the LGBT community on Liberal Hollywood TV studio lots.  Conversely, the more reality TV shows with Southern or “Bible-Belt” participants they produce in Hollywood, the more they should expect to hear controversial intolerant statements like Phil Robertson’s.  So, if Hollywood producers don’t want to hear such homophobic statements, and if studios don’t want have to have to deal with the financial fall-out of suspending actors or actresses who make such statements (after they have already inadvertently participated in the propagation of such statements by making their actors famous), then they shouldn’t be making TV shows with “back-woods,” “red-neck” Christian cast members.  I use those last two terms in quotes with the greatest of respect, since I grew-up a “back-woods, red-neck” myself.

On the other hand, if Phil Robertson wants to keep making money off A&E, Walmart, and the “Duck Dynasty” franchise, he should recognize he is a famous public figure now, and his every word will be scrutinized.  So he should be prepared to “speak no evil” against the LGBT or African-American communities, or he should be readily prepared to face the back-lash of exercising his freedom of speech in an industry that has been notoriously liberal since it’s inception.  In the long-run however, it is clear A&E’s & Walt Disney’s Hollywood corporate offices misjudged their demographic audience totally, and are going to likely lose their shirts on this one!  Or perhaps they are more concerned with the principle of the matter, rather than ratings; is that even possible!  Can cable networks and Hollywood studios have a moral compass, and a more enlightened compassion than Christians?  Can they actually see beyond profit and greed, to recognize the humanity and love that can occur between two consenting adults of the same sex?  Should they?  Who are the real “sinners” here?

These philosophical and spiritual questions are not easily answered, but one thing is clear, freedom of speech is a political freedom (that limits what the Federal or State governments can do to limit speech by law), it does not prevent a privately owned or even publically owned corporation from hiring, firing, or laying off someone who is being offensive, or potentially harassing to another group based on their sexual orientation), and it certainly is not a free-pass to offend on TV.  There is no “right to stay on TV” (or continue to make movies) once you’ve spoken your mind, and if you don’t believe me, just go ask Mel Gibson!

Don’t get me wrong, I believe 100% in the 1st Amendment, but a cable TV network is not the Federal Government, and is not required to follow the same rules as the Federal government.  Even with the Supreme Court’s use of the Interstate Commerce Clause to extend the 14th Amendment’s rights and protections to African-Americans in the Southern States (to end segregation), the States being bound by the Bill of Rights does not mean all corporations have to let everyone say what they wish, and then keep them on the payroll.  

However, everyone out there offended by A&E’s treatment of Phil Robertson has every right to exercise their own freedom of speech, and engage in a boycott of the show. And if you are a Christian, and you support Phil Robertson, perhaps you should, maybe it will cause more Christian programming to be made in the future in Hollywood. But conversely, A&E has every right to hire and fire whomever they wish for whatever reason, as long as they are following the letter of the law, and not discriminating against anyone.

However, I think where it gets a little heated and potentially legally problematic for A&E and Walt Disney, is whether or not a case can be made that they discriminated against Phil Robertson due to his actual “religious beliefs,” rather than suspended him for intolerant “hate speech.” I guess the Federal courts will have to decide that one if the “Duck Dynasty” -a.k.a. Robertson family sues A&E/Walt Disney for wrongful indefinite suspension, and for a Title VII discrimination violation.  But before that, they would likely need to file a religious discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).  Unfortunately, that Federal agency is so back-logged, that it could take years for the issue to be resolved, unless the notoriety of the case gets it bumped to the front of the line.  Either way, by the time it reaches the courts, A&E will have lost most of their Christian “Duck Dynasty” watchers, unless of course their viewers still enjoy shows like “Hoarders” or “Intervention.”

Either way, it is clear the government has been using Hollywood to make their propaganda for almost as long as the movie industry has been in existence.  So it should not be surprising if the “tool” of the Government’s propaganda and mind-control machine for the last 75 years or so would also choose to limit the “controversial” messages being disseminated to the public by popular actors via their networks (whether commanded to do so by the Government or not).  I just find it ironic, and a bit surprising that Walt Disney (the largest share-holder in A&E) would be the company to come to the defense of the LGBT community against someone who calls himself a Christian. They used to be so main-stream, and family oriented, being a cartoon movie studio.  But now that they are trying to avoid lawsuits, and wish to “cover their asses” legally, they have become so bold as to suspend an actor for intolerant “hate speech” that violates the civil rights of the LGBT community by demeaning their members.

However, since Mr. Disney died, the corporate Disney is a different animal, and the whole idea of what is “main-stream,” and “family-oriented” has also changed a lot in America in the last 40 years – at least in some parts of the country. Therefore, it will be interesting to see how many Americans are offended by A&E’s decision to suspend Phil Robertson, and how many are actually offended by his biases and beliefs.  Regardless of how that public opinion poll pans out, this is the exact type of mess that makes me understand why Christians don’t think Hollywood supports them and their beliefs, because they don’t.  Hollywood supports the Federal government’s agenda (at least on the surface), because they pay better, and because they don’t want to get sued by the ACLU, the Justice Department, or the LGBT community.

How could Mr. Robertson have thought exercising his freedom of speech rights would not have had an impact on his future career on the show, with the network, or in Hollywood in general?  Perhaps he wasn’t thinking about the potential ramifications of speaking his mind, or perhaps he wasn’t so worried about continuing to be rich and famous in the first place.  Perhaps instead, he had a sincere desire to express his Biblical beliefs about something he deems as evil and a sin.  Also, maybe he didn’t expect the outrage and backlash he received.  Either way,  I’m sure if he realized his mouth would end-up writing a “check A&E wouldn’t cash,” he would have recognized a “trap for headlines”  when he saw one, and perhaps he would have remembered with great freedoms and rights, come great responsibilities (including, but not limited to, knowing when to keep your big mouth shut, if you want to keep making the big bucks).  After all, does anyone on that show, or who is protesting A&E’s decision to suspend Phil Robertson recall what state Hollywood is in!  San Francisco, California (just North of Hollywood) is the capital of the LGBT community, and Hollywood and the acting profession have embraced the LGBT community with open-arms perhaps longer than most other industries combined.  So WTF is everyone thinking? 

Jesus Christ! Please, don’t tell me some back-woods, red-neck’s comments about homosexuality on “Duck Dynasty,” and his suspension from that popular TV show is going to be the great “spark” that “ignites” this woefully culturally divided nation on “fire!” As Rodney King so eloquently put it, “Why can’t we all just get along?  Likewise, Abraham Lincoln got it right when he said, “United we stand, divided we fall.”  Look around you, this is definitely not the best time for those on the political Left or the religious Right of our Nation to be on the verge of beating one another to a bloody pulp over how people choose to love each other in the privacy of their own homes.  But these controversies are a sign of the times, for our unlimited government would rather see us at each others’ throats, rather than wrapping our fingers around the necks of those who really deserve it the most – the wealthy, and “all-powerful” ruling elite.  After all, in truth, they could probably care less one way or the other what most Christians think about the LGBT community (or vice versa), because they would rather pit both groups against each other in the hopes of ensuring the two don’t notice the lack of jobs, dwindling economic opportunities, and crumbling infrastructure we all must overcome in the future regardless of our sexual orientation or religious beliefs.

Phil Robertson is a very rich man himself, and now, even if he never makes a show again, he will likely always be famous or infamous depending on which side of the cultural divide you align yourself.  If he were a scantly-clad Miley Cyrus swinging from a wrecking ball, we would likely just collectively shake our heads and chalk-up his bold if not naive remarks to youthful inhibitions.   But he’s not Ms. Cyrus, he’s an old man, preaching to his choir, and thus, he may have known exactly what he was doing.  I just hope his homophobic remarks, A&E’s indefinite suspension of him from the show, and the Conservative American public’s likely “boycott” of A&E (and perhaps even Disney) satiates the lust for “blood” out there in America.  Otherwise, Mr. Robertson may have just ridden in on his own wrecking ball, and the “new America” the Religious Right views as condemned, deprived, and immoral is the very “structure” he and his cohorts truly wish to demolish and build anew!

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