A&E’S decision to suspend Phil Robertson from “Duck Dynasty” over his anti-gay remarks made him an instant martyr among social conservatives eager to paint themselves as victims of an intolerant left.
Within hours of his suspension Thursday, he had drawn supportive statements from former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin and Bobby Jindal, governor of his home state of Louisiana. A petition to return him to the show began circulating immediately.
In trying to reprimand one of its stars for remarks that were widely considered offensive — he grouped homosexuals with “drunks” and “terrorists” — the network offended the show’s fan base, many of whom share Robertson’s love of God and guns.
“The politically correct crowd is tolerant of all viewpoints, except those they disagree with,” Jindal said in a late-night statement. “I don’t agree with quite a bit of stuff I read in magazine interviews or see on TV. In fact, come to think of it, I find a good bit of it offensive. But I also acknowledge that this is a free country and everyone is entitled to express their views. In fact, I remember when TV networks believed in the First Amendment. It is a messed up situation when Miley Cyrus gets a laugh, and Phil Robertson gets suspended.”
Also read: ‘Duck Dynasty’ Star Bashes Gays
See what he did there? He positioned Cyrus as a symbol of social liberals — who might be surprised by that news, given her conservative Christian upbringing — while branding Robertson a victim of overzealous progressives.
Tired of being accused of bullying women, gays and racial minorities, social conservatives have begun making the case that they themselves are an oppressed class. It’s most obvious with the supposed War on Christmas, a hyperbolic invention (“war”?) that presupposes that liberals are trying to take down the celebration.
It’s a classic argument technique: Say something absurd and provocative, and wait for your opponent to take it too far. Palin did it perfectly when she compared paying the national debt to slavery (absurd, provocative) and MSNBC’s Martin Bashir said she should suffer slavery-style torture (bizarrely personal, too far). Bashir soon resigned from the network.
Did A&E go too far when it suspended Robertson? It could have avoided the issue by persuading him to take a leave of absence, rather than ordering one. The decision gave conservatives a stronger case that he was the victim of thought policing.
“Free speech is an endangered species,” Palin said on Facebook Wednesday night. “Those ‘intolerants’ hatin’ and taking on the ‘Duck Dynasty’ patriarch for voicing his personal opinion are taking on all of us.”
Catch that? The “intolerants'” are the network executives who suspended Robertson for intolerance.
The American Civil Liberties Union, for one, has declined to engage. The group declined to comment Thursday, with a representative telling TheWrap that it’s not “a First Amendment/free speech issue because it doesn’t involve the government.”
But it could be a workplace expression issue. And here’s where things get very messy. Few employers would hesitate to suspend or fire someone for expressing bigotry. But they would also be on shaky legal ground if they fired or suspended an employee based on his or her beliefs.
Disapproving of homosexuality appears to be genuine part of Robertson’s faith.
“Simply put, Phil Robertson is being censored and punished for quoting the Bible, and A&E’s treatment of him is punitive and highly discriminatory,” said Chris Stone, founder of Faith Driven Consumer, the group behind the IStandWithPhil.com petition. “Everyday people will not stand for this, they know bullying and violation of religious freedom when they see it. A&E’s actions are censoring Faith Driven Consumers and eliminating them from an entertainment choice that they have overwhelmingly supported.”
Robertson and his supporters might even make the case that he isn’t discriminating against gays. Though he doesn’t believe they’ll be joining him in heaven, he says he would never infringe on their rights on earth.
“I would never treat anyone with disrespect just because they are different from me,” he said Wednesday. “We are all created by the Almighty and like Him, I love all of humanity. We would all be better off if we loved God and loved each other.”