If you’re not already familiar with the Phil Robertson controversy, well, let me try to sum it up in one sentence: Phil Robertson, a long-bearded dude from a hugely successful A&E reality show makes racist and homophobic comments during a GQ interview, leading to objections from various lefties and lefty organizations, which A&E responded to by “suspending” Robertson (although the suspension may be “just for show“), which led to various right-wingers objecting to left-wing totalitarianism and blah blah blah you get the gist of it.
Okay, now that we’re all up to speed…
1) There is no first amendment issue here, contrary to what some prominent conservatives have suggested. Free speech is not a right to freedom from consequences, and the first amendment is not a guarantee that A&E will pay you to be on your own TV show.
2) Is there a single right-winger now objecting to Phil Robertson’s treatment, who also publicly objected to the way the Dixie Chicks were treated? Or who has publicly objected to the far more common case of companies firing people for being pro-union? (Cathy Young brings up many more examples.)
3) I think A&E’s reaction was over-the-top. I don’t want to live in a society in which employers routinely punish people for their off-the-job speech. Bosses already have far too much power over workers’ lives. I don’t feel sorry for Robertson, a charismatic millionaire bigot, but as a general principle, employers shouldn’t use their power over employees to punish political opinions.
4) Nearly every conservative I’ve read discussing this case has mysteriously forgotten to even mention Robertson’s racist comments, focusing instead on his homophobia. (Example 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.) This is because it’s much more in Conservative’s “comfort zone” to defend homophobia by claiming religion makes it okay, than to address racism at all.
5) I despise the idea that if a belief is religious, it is somehow exempt from criticism.
There are countless Christians out there who don’t run their mouths off trashing gay people or equivocating homosexuality and bestiality, or claiming that life was just swell for Blacks under Jim Crow. The reason Phil Robertson does these things isn’t because he’s a Christian; it’s because he’s a bigot and an asshole. He, not his religion, is choosing to say these things, and it’s entirely appropriate to criticize him for it.
Furthermore, even if Christianity did require being a homophobic, racist asshole – which it does not – that still wouldn’t be an excuse for homophobia and racism. It would just make it morally wrong to remain a Christian.
6) Let’s review what Phil Robertson said about gays on another occasion:
Women with women, men with men, they committed indecent acts with one another, and they received in themselves the due penalty for their perversions,” Robertson continued. “They’re full of murder, envy, strife, hatred. They are insolent, arrogant, God-haters. They are heartless, they are faithless, they are senseless, they are ruthless. They invent ways of doing evil.
Yes, he’s paraphrasing the Bible (specifically Romans 1:26-30). But the Bible is a long book; there are many verses he could have chosen, but he chose this one to yell out from a podium. He chose to interpret it in an anti-gay fashion (there are other interpretations). He chose to present it in an angry and condemning manner. Those were Phil Robertson’s choices, not God’s.
7) Great quote from Ken White at Popehat:
The doctrine of the Preferred First Speaker holds that when Person A speaks, listeners B, C, and D should refrain from their full range of constitutionally protected expression to preserve the ability of Person A to speak without fear of non-governmental consequences that Person A doesn’t like. The doctrine of the Preferred First Speaker applies different levels of scrutiny and judgment to the first person who speaks and the second person who reacts to them; it asks “why was it necessary for you to say that” or “what was your motive in saying that” or “did you consider how that would impact someone” to the second person and not the first. It’s ultimately incoherent as a theory of freedom of expression.
Via David Schraub, who makes an interesting counterpoint.
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Finally, here’s a list of some blog posts I’ve read about this kerfuffle. I don’t agree with every point in every post on this list, but I did find them all to be interesting reading.
- Phil Robertson’s warped vision of civil-rights history – Ta-Nehisi Coates – The Atlantic
- GOP Congressional Candidate: Phil Robertson Just Like Rosa Parks
- Why Is It Always About Sex? « The Dish
- Fannie’s Room: Robertson as a Symbol of Waning Patriarchy
- Classism in the Rise and Fall of the Duck Dynasty Patriarch » Sociological Images
- We are respectable negroes: Phil Robertson, Duck Dynasty, and the White Trash Politics of the Republican Party
- Ten Points About Speech, Ducks, And Flights To Africa | Popehat
- How typical is Phil Robertson’s view of gay sex? | The Volokh Conspiracy
- Clobber verses: ‘I’m crushing your head!’
- The A-Unicornist: The conservative reaction to the Duck Dynasty fiasco shows that religion is the single biggest obstacle to gay rights
- I used to be a homophobic racist, too | Defeating the Dragons