While the controversy surrounding Duck Dynasty’s show-running patriarch Phil Robertson has subsided since his reinstatement to the show, what occurred in the wake of his suspension deserves some scrutiny.
I am an ardent defender of the First Amendment in its broadest of interpretations – a First Amendment absolutist of sorts. Any speech that is stifled for any reason is dangerous for all of us. That’s why I have no qualms with Robertson saying how he feels. He has that right and I dare anyone to take that away from him, because even though I may not agree with what he says, I will defend his right to say it.
Robertson spoke freely without inhibition or fear of governmental retribution in his interview with GQ magazine that ultimately led to his suspension from the show by A&E. But Robertson is more than just a person, and he is the face of not only a TV show, but a network as well. What he says isn’t above social analysis.
There was a large outcry over A&E’s response, which was to suspend Robertson from participating in the filming of the TV show.
An outpouring of support came to the defense of Robertson, including some from politicians. In a statement to Washington Post, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said, “The politically correct crowd is tolerant of all viewpoints, except those they disagree with. 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.”
Remember, this man governs a state, yet doesn’t seem to fully understand the implications of the First Amendment.
Private corporations infringe upon our First Amendment rights all the time. Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, Wal-Mart, McDonalds and countless others all have policies in place that infringe, to some degree, on our First Amendment rights.
The Supreme Court ensures the federal and state government does not infringe upon our rights. That is as far as their reach goes. The doings of private corporations and legally binding contracts between people is separate from the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction.
What Robertson could sue for is wrongful termination, but even that might be futile. In most cases involving entertainers, there is something called a “morals clause” that allows a company to fire someone if the talent speaks or acts in a way that insults or denigrates people, which is nearly impossible to fight against in a court case. A moral clause is used within contracts to curtail or restrain – or even encourage – certain behaviors of individuals in the contract. It’s used to hold parties to a certain standard to avoid disputes, scandals or controversies.
It’s likely A&E used these grounds for Robertson’s initial suspension. A TV network does not guarantee the preservation of one’s First Amendment rights. It just so happened that Robertson’s suspension ignited a firestorm of backlash against what he said.
What happened to Phil Robertson is a prime example that, while the government guarantees the First Amendment and the Constitution for all of us, what one says is not above social scrutiny and ridicule.
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