Society too quick to judge Phil Robertson

In late December, Phil Robertson, family patriarch of the hit A&E show Duck Dynasty, was suspended for controversial comments he made about black people and gay people to the men’s magazine GQ. The statements made by Robertson, however, ended up saying more about society’s cultural reaction to someone voicing an unpopular opinion than it did of Robertson’s individual beliefs.

Wendy Fu | Daily Trojan

Wendy Fu | Daily Trojan

The First Amendment states, “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech,” and this basic sentiment allows us to draw two conclusions. The first is that A&E was well within their constitutional right to suspend Robertson from the show. A&E is a private network that can choose to suspend, fire or otherwise punish an employee who presumably violates his or her contract with the network. So those decrying the downfall of the First Amendment might want to pump the brakes.

The second conclusion that can be drawn is about hypocrisy. Those on the anti-Christian side (a safe categorization, seeing as Robertson based his statements on the Bible) came out saying A&E didn’t go far enough and that they should have fired Robertson and his family for their beliefs. Unfortunately for those worrying about the downfall of human rights at Robertson’s hands, the First Amendment has nothing to do with being offended. It doesn’t say, “Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech … unless your feelings get hurt or you disagree in any way.”

Before gay marriage became the widely accepted cultural movement it is today, those in support of it faced the same “just stop talking” sentiment critics are now throwing at people such as Phil Robertson. How easily people forget the value of being able to express their opinions when those opinions become culturally popular. How easily they toss around the word “bigot” without realizing it has a far more widespread application than they care to admit.

“Bigot”, according to Merriam-Webster, is a person who is intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices.

Just as those who disagree with Robertson on the issue of gay marriage want to change freedom of speech to only include the things they find palatable, they also want to change the word bigot to only apply to those with religious convictions.

And “prejudice”, according to Merriam-Webster, is a preformed opinion, usually an unfavorable one, based on insufficient knowledge, irrational feelings or inaccurate stereotypes.

Having clarified prejudice, we can now more accurately define a bigot as someone who is intolerantly devoted to his or her own negative opinions. But is it not bigoted to decide anyone who doesn’t support gay marriage is hateful and intolerant? Attacking Phil Robertson for his choice to exercise his own freedom of speech and his own freedom of religion allows people to misuse the word bigot and pervert a constitution they claim is being perverted and misrepresent a religion they’ve taken just enough time to learn so they can make a comment about whether or not Robertson should eat shellfish.

At all costs ,the people calling those who oppose gay marriage bigoted have to keep going. Because those who like to use the word bigoted conveniently spend so much time attacking the rest of the population that they haven’t looked in the mirror long enough to realize that their behavior and language makes them exactly the boogeyman they’re scared of — people intolerantly devoted to a preformed negative opinion about an entire group of people.

So maybe it’s time to take a step back and look at our own behavior. Before deciding someone is a redneck or a bigot for not agreeing with a culturally popular opinion, we should look at how we express those beliefs. Before calling people names like a nation of third graders, we should take a minute to evaluate whether those words come from our own place of bigotry.

After that, we can talk about the shellfish thing.


Calum Hayes is a junior majoring in  broadcast and digital journalism and philosphy, politics and law.


  • Dan

    Hey-, if one party wants to publicly decree their beliefs, then they should be ready to deal with the response. Our inalienable right to freedom of speech not only protects those who chose to discuss their beliefs, but also protects those who choose to respond. Asking the latter to reconsider what they say, while defending the words of the former, seems a bit hypocritical.

    Also, someone is considered a “bigot” because of their intolerance. When someone speaks out against something, I would consider that being intolerant and so would most people.

  • Tom Ender

    I said I do NOT want to change freedom of speech. The author claims I do want to change freedom of speech. He said this…”those who disagree with Robertson on the issue of gay marriage want to change freedom of speech…”

    This is not well written and is just plain Wrong. D-

  • Abe

    You definitely should NOT want to change freedom of speech. That is exactly the freedom by which a group of people have been permitted to cram their agenda down the throats of every TV watching American since at least the first episode of Will and Grace. The exact same conduit by which the Robertson’s are reaching out to their group.

    I believe what Calum is eluding to in this article is the need for tolerance, not to point blame or “lump” anyone into a group. The division will ALWAYS be there, so long as either of both sides are ignorant to that point. Furthermore, Robertson said nothing to foster intolerance.

  • Jenna Burnett

    I totally agree with you. The Founding Fathers of our country gave every right to Phil to say what he wants. Think about it in the opposite direction: do TV networks suspend actors for admitting to being gay? No. They have the freedom of speech and of religion. They are perfectly legal, and should speak as they wish on TV. Directors encourage it, even. When Phil simply quotes the Bible in his words and states what he feels (not necessarily the rest of the Robinson family’s opinion), he gets thrown out with hundreds of thousands of people slandering him. All I can note is that the early presidents that we respect and appreciate would shake their head in shame at what we are as a country today.
    As President Lincoln said, “A house divided among itself cannot stand.” We’re trying to do two things: hate on people with beliefs, and cherish people coming out, being who they are and what they believe in.
    To make it worse, the TV editors are editing the Duck Dynasty show to please one crowd, displeasing the other. Bleeps were added to “hide profanity”, but Phil and his family had never used such language. Those who want to watch the show because it’s seemingly one of the only clean, family-friendly shows on cable anymore should be able to watch a series portraying their beliefs. If you think it’s too “sissy” or “religious”, then you don’t have to watch it. Simply grab the remote and switch the channel. You don’t have to raise a riot to express how you dislike a character on the show.
    What’s going to be the next step? Are sermons given on TV networks going to be blocked as well? It’s the same thing: a pastor expresses the Word of God; an actor expresses the Word of God. The only difference is that Phil Robertson is famous.
    God does not hate gays. Christians…well, those who truly interpret the Bible correctly… don’t hate gays, either. Christians love everything that God has made, and God made humans. Jesus was sent to Earth for this very reason. He even hung out with these people. Prostitutes, murderers, taxmen (who in that time were pro liars, thieves, and plain cruel) was his crowd. Just because a Christian doesn’t do homosexuality doesn’t mean that they hate gay people. Instead they beg gays to go to church with them. Not to just repent, either. Christians hope to show them how to please and love God, and show true roots of the Bible. Yes, homosexuality is stated as a sin in the Bible. Yes, this displeases God. But God still loves His creation, and just hopes that the gay community comes to a revelation.
    If you think about it, gay people weren’t gay from the beginning; since birth, for example. If God made the universe, He made us; and He did not design only males, just as He didn’t just make women. No, He made women for men. He did not make men with female “parts”, nor visa-versa. He specifically made man for woman and woman for man, if you think about natural desires and the human body.
    Some people argue that they have natural desires for the opposite sex. Yes, that forms over time, depending on your environment. Who you grew up with, like family and friends, greatly determines who you are. If you grew up without the opposite sex having interest in you, it would be easy to understand that you would naturally turn to other options. Or maybe you just find your sex attractive. Yeah, the opposite sex does, too. If you continue to feed that flame, though, it becomes a sin, according to the Bible. I’m not going to go into great length on this small topic, but if you think about it, you will know where I’m coming from.
    We were born into the world as sinners. It’s natural. The Bible says this, too. But what makes Christianity is how you choose to live your life. No one is going to be sinless, but Christians try to keep the number of sins down. They choose to follow what the Bible says what to do and what not to do. That’s all that Phil Robertson was trying to say. He is choosing to live a life according to how God made him and for his purpose. He believes that to lie with your same sex is a sin, just as God believes. He should not have been put to shame for having beliefs and a voice.

    • Lee

      I have thought about and I have researched it and yes gays are indeed supposed to be gay. And how does that come about? Certain chemicals are released in different quantities on the fetus. The same goes for tomboys and ‘metrosexuals” (Not a great name), We all are different amounts of masculine and feminine attributes. Just like our hair colour, height, handedness is pre-determined long before we make our debut. So if the mother is responsible for the chemical mix we inherit, what shall we do now? If you were to do some research you would find out that there was a very good reason to dislike gays. The Romans were power-hungry and wished to gain as much territory as they could. That meant going to battle. And they needed soldiers. Now in Roman times there was a specific practice of older men being intimate with younger males. The end result was that less males were born. So the Romans had to figure out a way to curb the practice pagans were partaking in. They came to the conclusion that if they could bring the church on board and make it immoral, then they would get their boys to bolster their ranks. So it was made a “sin”. And that is the root of the acrimony against gays.
      Interestingly enough, there was a practice when I was growing up where the village priest would make his rounds to persuade the first born son to become a priest. or at the very least pester the mother into making the commitment! In some places it was expected. See the pattern? The first born may be most unsuitable for the role of social worker.
      There are ironies over the stance Christianity takes on the matter. I have an uncle who became a priest-everyone loved him until the good father molested both a girl and a boy. Gay priests are not pedophiles so children are safe with them. It’s a committed gay couple that will adopt the baby of a the poor 16 -year old who is in over her head. Not the pro-lifers. And the biggest irony of all-I would rather have dinner with men who happen to be gay than to break break with ignorant (in both sense of the word) folk who don’t know the the fine line between free speech and hate speech. Just because you CAN say something does not mean you OUGHT to…Mr Robertson can say what he likes but he has to accept that there may be push back.. I am disappointed in him- I really thought he was smarter than that. I will never understand why people get so uptight about gay marriage – it has nothing to do with you personally so learn to tolerate or better yet accept reality. You will like yourself much better at the end of the day..

  • I told my wife they had an agenda when I saw assault weapons and a family prayer in the same episode. For those of you that like red neck entertainment without the Christian right agenda I suggest Fat Cops.

  • Sky

    Change a word from his statement and let’s see what is was like just 40 years ago.

    “Start with interracial relationships and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men.”

    Would you like it if people likened your interracial relationship as a step toward beastiality?

  • Tom Ender

    “””Just as those who disagree with Robertson on the issue of gay marriage want to change freedom of speech to only include the things they find palatable, they also want to change the word bigot to only apply to those with religious convictions.””” –

    Where do you get this? I and plenty of others that disagree with Robertson on the issue of gay marriage do NOT want to change freedom of speech to only include the things we find palatable. I bet you hate to be lumped in with a group you feel is wrong but you feel oh so comfortable doing it to others.