Freedom of Speech is Not Freedom From Consequences: the Ignorance of Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson and the People Who Defend Him

Phil Robertson, star of A&E’s “Duck Dynasty,” has been suspended after going on an anti-gay rant in GQ magazine.  Calling homosexuality a sin, not logical, and equating it with bestiality, his comments have led to a great deal of debate about his punishment.  And, predictably, a whole lot of dumb arguments are being made by a whole lot of dumb people in support of his bigotry.

Let’s quickly examine a few of the major points being made in his favor and explain why they are ridiculous.

“He’s just speaking his mind.  Those are his beliefs.”

Yes, they are, and he’s entitled to them.  A&E also has a responsibility to their brand, sponsors, and viewers to do what they feel is best when a star of one of their programs offends a large segment of the population.  You can disagree with the punishment they have chosen, if you would like, but you can’t pretend that a response is unjustified.

photo courtesy of

photo courtesy of

“Whatever happened to freedom of speech?  Phil Robertson is being oppressed!”

He has freedom of speech.  He doesn’t, however, have freedom from criticism.  Or freedom from repercussions for his speech.  Sometimes your words have consequences.  Phil Robertson is not in a concentration camp today for speaking his mind.  He has been suspended from filming for “Duck Dynasty,” which is a privilege he has been afforded by A&E.  Filming this television show is not his constitutional right.

“You are being intolerant for not tolerating Phil Robertson’s intolerance.”

I reject the notion that the intolerant among us get to define what tolerance is.  But isn’t intolerance tolerated, at least to a certain degree, in our society as it is?  I’m not suggesting that Robertson not be allowed to believe what he wants or speak his mind.  I’m only asking for the same right. 

Karl Popper put it best when he said, “If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them.”

“His comments aren’t bigotry.  He is a Christian who is just spreading the Word of God as found in the Bible.”

I’m sick of people hiding their bigotry behind a book written in the Bronze Age.  Bigotry is bigotry, whether it is in your holy text of choice or not.  The Bible is largely a work of fiction that, at one point or another, is anti-gay, supports the subjugation of women, is pro-slavery, pro-human sacrifice, and pro-infanticide, among other horrible things.  It has been used time and time again throughout history to support the beliefs of homophobes, male chauvinists, slaveholders, murderers, and racists.  The Bible, and a large amount of its content, is antiquated.  We rightly reject those that used it in support of owning slaves, and we reject it now for those who use it to shield themselves from criticism of their comments about gay people.

Lest you think Phil Robertson’s particular backwoods brand of stupidity begins and ends with his views on gay people, you’re in luck.  He also said that Nazis didn’t have Jesus in their lives, which is wrong.  Hitler referred to Jesus Christ as his “Lord and Savior,” and the Christianity of Germany in the early 20th century was anti-Semetic and nationalistic.  Plus, Robertson claims that, in pre-Civil Rights-era Louisiana, he never saw a black person mistreated.  In fact, he says, black people were happy!  No word yet if Phil is legally blind.

I partially understand the sentiment of those who say that Robertson is just a backwoods idiot and his words shouldn’t even register as noteworthy.   But I also believe strongly that ignorant beliefs cause harm, and as such should be engaged with and properly rejected with logic and facts.  Hopefully he takes a lesson from the backlash.

Now, to be fair, Phil Robertson did release a statement Wednesday after his comments were broadcast.  It read, in part, “I would never treat anyone with disrespect just because they are different from me.  We are all created by the Almighty and like Him, I love all of humanity.”  Sorry, but telling people they are sinners equivalent to those that commit bestiality is not loving and respectful.

Perhaps his lesson can begin there.


2 thoughts on “Freedom of Speech is Not Freedom From Consequences: the Ignorance of Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson and the People Who Defend Him

  1. Well said. Phil should have realized his words would have consequences. My question is for the network. This is not the first time a reality TV celebrity has gone rouge. Don’t they vet these people? If you are going to splash people’s faces all over America you should at least ask them the basics so this does not keep happening.

    • Agreed. His views, shameful as they are, should have been no mystery to them. There are videos of him online saying far harsher things about gay people. It is stunning to me if they didn’t know about this stuff. Maybe they were just hoping he would keep his trap shut while under contract?

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