Why the Duck Dynasty Dust-Up Is Not About Freedom of Speech (and why Christians should stop saying so).

UPDATE*** This post has received MUCH publicity in the last two days. JD is discussing this very article on his radio program and podcast, The Pulpit and Pen Program, on Monday (12/23/13). You can find links to this podcast (and to subscribe) under “The Program” tab. Also, if you would like updates from this collaborative blog, please click the link on the home page that says, “Become a Pulpiteer.”

A&E “fired” Phil Robertson for speaking his mind, articulating a worldview that clashes with the worldview of those operating the cable network. Technically, A&E didn’t fire an “employee,” but chose to suspend their relationship with a contractor. It appears that the rest of the Duck Dynasty cast (the Robertson clan) are choosing not to continue their contract with A&E without their father. This controversy is about a number of things, but it’s not about “free speech.”

There are lots of reasons to be upset at A&E, including the following:

1. A&E chose to fight what they believe is ‘homophobia’ by becoming anti-religious bigots.

2. A&E decided that the gay-lobby is more to be feared than 14 million angry rednecks.

3. Instead of letting advertisers decide if they wanted to deal with potential gay-lobby boycotts, they decided to preemptively cancel the show (no one really expected the Robertson boys to continue without Phil).

4. A&E clearly articulated their view that there is no place for diversity in the national conversation. In doing so, they also castigated the views of millions of Americans who share Phil’s convictions.

And yet, free speech issues are not among the reasons to be upset at A&E.

Bobby Jindal, Sarah Palin and about a thousand other Christians in my Twitter feed all seem to share the same conviction; “firing” Phil Robertson (IE choosing not to do business with him) was a violation of his right to free speech. Jindal, Palin, and about a thousand Christians in my Twitter feed are wrong.

When Martin Bashir recently lost his job for exercising his right of free speech to say certain things about Sarah Palin, conservatives applauded. It was not a violation of his free speech for CNN to fire him. His free speech was going to hurt their bottom line. And for A&E to decide (foolishly, I think) that Phil Robertson’s free speech is going to hurt their bottom line (or contradict their own conscience), they have a right to end their contract with him.

Let’s re-read the Constitution to clarify that none of Robertson’s First Amendment rights were violated…

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances

Neither Congress nor A&E has violated Robertson’s constitutional or civil rights. Neither has prohibited Phil from freely exercising his speech or religion, peaceful assembly, or petition. Phil Robertson is free to say whatever he wants to say. A&E, as a private business owned by private citizens, is free to contract anyone they want to do business with – or to cancel that said contract. It doesn’t matter whether A&E is a multimillion dollar company or a Mom & Pop taco stand – the United States Supreme Court has ruled that how a company chooses to spend its money is an expression of their free speech.

From 1819 onward, the high courts have consistently ruled that corporations enjoy the same rights as the citizens that own them, in rulings from Trustees of Woodward College vs Dartmouth (1819) to Citizens United vs Federal Election Commission (2010). Simply put, it would be unjust that A&E be forced to do business with someone if it violates their conscience. For A&E to have to continue a contract with Phil Robertson if the disagree with his views, it would violate their First Amendment freedoms.

For example, a Colorado judge recently ruled that a Christian baker must make a wedding cake for a homosexual marriage even if it violates his conscience. This is a prime example of First Amendment rights being violated. He is free, according to the laws of God, Nature, and the United States Constitution to not do business with someone who holds views or practices that he disagrees with. The Christian baker may be guilty of a conscientious discrimination, but not a legal discrimination. The same is true for A&E in every conceivable way.

So if this story isn’t about violation of Phil Robertson’s free speech, what is it about? This story is about the degradation and depravity of American culture. It’s about the willful waste of common sense. This story is about hypocrisy from those who cry for tolerance and plead for diversity. This story is about the growing unpopularity of a biblical worldview. This story is about the increasing strength of a lobby formed by a tiny fraction of the population that holds the majority captive. This story (in just a few weeks) will be about an formerly-outraged pseudo-Christian culture that will be lulled to sleep and stop caring about it because our attention span is weaker than our conscience. This story is about the growing power of the thought-police and the ostracization that occurs if one strays from group-think. This story is about Christians who were so happy that “we” (evangelicals) were being welcomed back into entertainment culture vicariously through Duck Dynasty and are now shocked to discover that darkness hates the light and that Christians won’t be welcomed at the cool table for very long.

But what this story is not about is the freedom of speech.

What this story needs to be about is a family from Louisiana that enjoyed all the world had to offer and lost the very vehicle of that fame for preaching more truth than Hollywood could handle…and when they lost it, they rejoiced that they still had Jesus. The Robertsons being content in their situation (and Christians not freaking out about the loss of the program) will make God look magnified, glorified and a better prize than fortune and fame.

What the Robertsons need to articulate is that their television show and indeed all of their earthly wealth should be counted as loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus, their Lord.

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43 Responses

  1. shalena says:

    Lol bull… This is absolutely a freedom of speech issue. Who do you think you are fooling. Pro – homosexuality or anti – homosexuality. You have the right to an opinion. A&E did not take actions against Phil till he expressed an opinion. Shame on them.

    As for the homosexuality. And his biblical beliefs. If you are a Christian you can not chose what parts of the Bible you believe. To make it work for you. As a Christian you are anti-sin. Not anti-PEOPLE and that is what he was stating in his apology. Fact is it is a sin. Pro or anti that is what is stated in the Bible. But soooo of is so many others things like premarital sex. And Phil has said that too in the show.. But No one suspended him over that…
    A&E got nervous and jumped the gun and took their stand. And that is their right. Will it hurt A&E? RATINGS…MAYBE Will it hurt Duck Commander or the Robertson family? Not at all they just turned Phil into a martyr.

    • JD Hall says:

      …and interestingly enough, no one has taken away Phil’s right to an opinion. As you said, “A&E…took their stand. And that is their right.”

      • Ty says:

        I’m kind of with Shalena on this one. They were certainly chastised for speaking and using their free speech. and A&E’s decision seems to punish people that do use free speech and makes a sort of threat towards people so they’ll not want to use it in the future.

    • Mark says:

      This has absolutely nothing to do with freedom of speech. Phil was not stopped from saying what he said and he does indeed have the right to his opinion and the right to express his opinion. However, there may also be repercussions that arise from something that is said, and he should have been aware that that could happen. The result of what Phil said was that A&E suspended him, and they had every right to do so. They made a business decision, simple as that. Freedom of speech would only come into play if the government had tried to stop Phil from expressing his opinion. But Phil has not been arrested or put in jail, and A&E is not a government organization.

      • Alex says:

        I’m sure Phil knew exactly the repercussions he would’ve faced having said something against public “norm” and quoting Bible verses which goes against “politically correct” view points. However, he quite frankly didn’t care what would happen to him. He was given a reason to express his faith, beliefs, and the Good Book and standing up for his God so he did. He knew exactly what could happen and this could blow up, as it has. I know the Robertson family, I myself am from West Monroe. They’re great Christian people and don’t condemn anyone. He was not only stopped by what he said, it was obvious he was set up and I believe this does in a way violate his civil rights.

    • Jason Oliver Elmer says:

      what the Robertsons need to do is truly follow Christ, and give up everything they have… comfort the poor and the wretched…speak kind words to the hurt and the lost…love their fellow man, not take them down to the level of animals…i wonder if you people really read the book you claim to follow or just the bits that make you feel righteous. rich men and camels and eyes of needles sound familiar? self-serving pharisees with their public declarations of faith? actions speak louder than words, and so-called media stars have nothing worth listening to, if their actions do not speak for them

      • JD Hall says:

        If you’re asserting that discipleship requires poverty, your hermeneutic could probably use a polishing. If you’re asserting discipleship requires sacrificial giving, I would be in agreement.

      • makayla says:

        i wonder if you have read the book you are critisizing? instead of picking out the things that arent good in it? saveing people from slavory. turning millions from sin GIVING HIS LIFE FOR THE SAKE OF EVERY PERSON in the whole world does that sound familiar to you?

      • Alex says:

        Clearly the Robertson’s don’t care about the money since after Phil was taken off the show, they have decided not to continue to contract. So…. your point. They’re the same as they were years ago when I met them, nothing has changed. So this verse definitely doesn’t pertain to them, which I’ve seen quoted in this situation more than this time.

  2. These are merely the opening salvos of an incredible war against the church that is coming in the future

  3. johnnyis says:

    Reblogged this on Of fire and marrow and commented:
    I was going to write something up about this whole ballyhoo, but Hall has here beaten me too it, and done so quite admirably. I highly recommend you read this post.

  4. Janyce Hockenbary says:

    My thoughts as well.

  5. Glynn says:

    The last sentence is the best and most important thing you said. Amen!

  6. Jeremy F says:

    I completely agree with everything you said except that Christians should not “freak out about the loss of the program”. For the first time since the battle to redefine the definition of Christian faith in the public conscience, Christians are actively standing to combat the punitive actions many businesses, individuals, media outlets, and even government has exercised against those who pronounce their beliefs. And while it may seem trivial, if Chick-Fil-A and Duck Dynasty are the catalysts for Christians to stop the steamroller that is political correctness which is trying to silence the Bible, then so be it. Buy an extra chicken biscuit and email A&E. In the end, we need to show that Christians will not simply be silent. We will not apologize for our beliefs. We will not accept the label of “hate” or “anti-whatever” that we’ve allowed society to successfully label us with through the media’s coordinated effort.

    • JD Hall says:

      My confessional belief in the sovereignty and Providence of God prohibits me from “freaking out” about most everything, albeit a healthy reassertion of natural law and constitutional rights is very admirable.

  7. I am most concerned about the story that was barely mentioned about Colorado. As a Catholic Christian who has attended evangelical churches, and consider myself a Bible-believing Christian, that story makes me quake a little. What about Catholic churches in states like Maryland that refuse to marry homosexual couples. I refuse to go to a church that condones and encourages this. I would like to believe that homosexual rights groups would stop with the right to marry, and tax and hospital visit benefits that typically were awarded to traditional marriage relationships. This case in Colorado is a form of tyranny never dreamt of by the Christians who fled to America in order to practice their faith.

  8. Bro. JD,

    Do you think that the case precedence set by our courts make way for the following to be argued:

    While the company (A&E) is free to fire Phil, they are not free to fire him for his religious belief?
    The sword cuts both ways. Christian company can not fire some one after finding out that they are gay, THAT is now discrimination. the converse would be true as well with one exception, the company hired Phil knowing he was a Christian, profited from his character, then fired him for holding to said convictions and expressing his belief. That is discrimination.

    • JD Hall says:

      Bro. Brandon, what A&E did to Phil Robertson is most certainly discrimination. And if my church fired an employee for acknowledging themselves as a homosexual it would also be discrimination. However, neither should be an illegal form of discrimination because it is a decision made in the course of conscience. And all individuals and entities, not just charitable or religious 501(c)3’s should have the right of conscience. We must have the ability and freedom to conduct our private enterprises as we are directed by God, our conscience or in A&E’s case, their depravity.

    • Dennis Hall says:

      Louisiana is an at Will state regardless. He can be fired for “no reason” at all really, that’s how that works.

  9. Wake up people. A&E and the Robertson family are working together on this. This is all a marketing stunt and the entire country has bought into it. This fake controversy is going to make A&E, the Robertsons, and the Duck Dynasty empire A LOT of money. They are selling even more merchandise now and when the show returns in January on A&E, they will have their highest ratings EVER.

    Controversy is good business. Just look at Cracker Barrel and their reversal today. They knew exactly what they were doing.

  10. Pete says:

    I disagree completely and feel that this article is a very biased sentimental argument against antihomophobia.

    • JD Hall says:

      This article indeed takes a ‘biased’ view. And yes, of course I’m biased. So are you, friend. The only question is, “biased by what?” My worldview is shaped by the Holy Scriptures. By what is yours biased?

  11. Nancy Kottke says:

    who needs A&E when they’ve got Jesus:)

  12. Stephen Hansen says:

    Thank you for exercising your right to free speech on this well written article. You helped me see it from a different viewpoint..

  13. Mossna says:

    Why does A&E have the right to not do business with someone based in religious beliefs, but the bakery in Colorado doesn’t have the same right, or the t-shirt company? Can’t have it both ways.

    • chapmaned24 says:

      Apparently they can have it both ways, especially when some Christians think that what Phil said was vile and out of line. That angers me that fellow Christians would even think that what Phil said was vile. He mentioned the “V” word, and the “A” word. Anatomy Medical terms are now vile? Such prudes some Christians are.

  14. only1len says:

    You gut’s think this is a big thing. It isn’t. A&E Has a lot of money. A&E wants to keep all their money. They think if they let this, what ever he is, speak his mind they lose money. So they don’t pay him. So what! It’s amazing all you have to do is say you like Jesus Christ and you are sacred. You can’t be wrong you can’t be hurt and you certainly can’t be fired. He said some things that made a lot of people feel uneasy. And A&E does not pay people to make its audience feel uneasy.

  15. Dr D Mize says:

    You seem to forget the Civil Rights Act of 1964. That law prohibits the hiring, firing, and other discrimination based on religious belief. Mr Robertson spoke his religious belief and therefore his “firing” is a violation of said act. AND furthermore if his contract with A&E allows such firing, then the contract itself is illegal.

  16. Myra says:

    I do agree that this is not an issue of free speech, however I do not think that we as Christians should be silent about what as been done there is a way to let our voice that is so often drowned out I’m today’s society be heard in a peaceful manner that does not reflect poorly on us, but we do need to freak out if one man’s Christian beliefs are punished by losing a job in a very public forum then what will stop this injustice from poring over into the privatized world even more than it does already. We should stand firm on the bible and readily defend our beliefs because there is no one else in this world who will do it for us, we have no other voice but our own. We should freak out and not let our beliefs be shaken or tossed aside by any one, not let telling the truth of the bible be punished, and not standing idly by as a fellow brother or sister in Christ is pursecuted. That being said there us a right and a wrong way to do so. Lashing out at the world is wrong letting them know in a peaceful manner that we stand together and will not compromise in our beliefs is right, we should not back down and become a passive people the job we were given, spreading the true gospel if Christ, is far too important for us as a people to lie down and not defend our lord and his word.

  17. Bill Manning says:

    I am tired of reading this BS concerning Phil Robertson. It was NOT an attack on “freedom of speech”, he was perfectly free to make his comments, but he had an agreement with A&E that he basically represents them, and since they did not want their image to be a part of his comments, he was let go. That’s it.
    As for all the repercussions since the comments being an attack on Christianity, that’s complete and utter BS. Have you idiots even listened to his full interview and listened to what he said? Do you honestly want a “Love Thy Neighbor” religion to be associated with someone who feels that black people were happier before he civil rights movement? Or how about someone who feels that every nation or society that doesn’t follow his religion is basically full of murderers? And then there are the comments he made in a 2010 interview where he stated that gays are full of murder , envy, strife, and 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.

    • JD Hall says:

      What you’ve just written is a quotation from Romans 1, ending at verse 30. This passage speaks to the depraved nature of man, and indeed explicitly mentions the homosexual in these ways…but more than just the homosexual, and characterizes all lost and pre-regenerate men. The “love” part of Christianity is that Jesus died for the men characterized in this way, while they were yet still sinners.

  18. Caroline Holmes says:

    Very well said and well thought out JD, you have a sound mind though all of this. Good job plainly and truthfully. I agree.

  19. chapmaned24 says:

    First of all, this REALLY isn’t about a contractual money issue with A&E. This is about the morality of the American people. The circus has made this issue about money, about contracts, about business deals, about advertisers, etc. That is all just a smoke screen to the underlying problem of America’s immoral acts. My problem with this is that there are some Christians that are offended by what Phil said, as well. I am a Christian and I can’t understand why professing Christians are offended by him quoting scripture. Bill Oreilly, a self proclaimed expert of Christianity from Fox News quoted Luke’s “Judge Not”, and yet, he has a problem with quoting 1 Corinthians, because that’s judging. I say, “Huh?”. Everyone always states that we can’t judge, fine. But God gave us a clue as to how he judges. And, therefore, people are having a problem with God, not us Christians. No, this isn’t about money. It’s the LBGT doing what it can to shut the mouth of a Christian.

  20. chapmaned24 says:

    To add to the above, That is why, to me, this really is about “Freedom of Speech”. Not the “Freedom of Speech” in regards to the government of the United States of America, as you have well noted in your article. I do indeed see this as a freedom of speech issue. The LBGT is allowed to speek freely, and the Christian is told to shut his mouth, and the average Christian is so intimidated that Christians actually do shut their mouth, and look at where that got us today. Our whole society is changing, for the worst, and Christians aren’t doing anything about it. But Phil is NOT backing down. God Bless Phil.

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