Sunday, December 22, 2013

Phil Robertson's Anti-Gay Remarks: Yes, He Got What He Deserved

I had to take a break from commenting on the Federal Reserve and monetary policy to weigh in on this issue. Last week, Gentlemen Quarterly published an interview with Phil Robertson, who is a TV personality on the A&E TV show Duck Dynasty. Robertson made incendiary comments, including how African-Americans were happy "pre-entitlement" and how a "lack of Jesus" brought about such things as Nazi Germany and the attack on Pearl Harbor. As offensive as those were, the comments for which Robertson received the most flack was his comments on homosexuality and gay people. These comments have resulted in A&E suspending Robertson from the show, although that suspension might be short-lived.

Conservatives would have you believe that Robertson is being punished for exercising his free speech and talking about Christian values. Ian Bayne insultingly analogized Robertson as the "Rosa Parks of our generation." If Robertson simply opined that "homosexual behavior is unambiguously prohibited in the Bible" (an opinion with which I vehemently disagree) and left it at that, he would have been fine. However, his comments about homosexuality went well beyond his interpretation of the Bible. Exhibit A. When asked the question "What in your mind is sinful," Robertson's response was the following:

Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men. Don't be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers, they won't inherit the kingdom of G-d. Don't deceive yourself. It's not right.

The first thing that comes to Robertson's mind about what constitutes as sin is not avarice or injustice. It's the sexual acts committed by consenting, homosexual adults. And how in the world does homosexual behavior lead to bestiality?! The man's ignorance about homosexuality shows that he does not have the faintest idea of how sexuality functions. Furthermore, his statement of "they won't inherit the kingdom of G-d" also contradicts his later statement of "We never, ever judge someone on who's going to heaven, hell." But wait a second. You just said that you shouldn't judge people, but you managed to judge a whole group of people in a previous statement in the same interview. Whatever happened to "do not judge lest ye be judged (Matthew 7:1)?"

Exhibit B of just how disparaging Robertson's remarks were:

It seems like, to me, a vagina, as a man, would be more desirable than a man's anus. That's just me. I'm just thinking: There's more there! She's got more to offer. I mean, come on, dude, you know what I'm saying? But hey, sin: It's not logical, my man. It's just not logical.

Here's another example of "whatever happened to not judging people?" And how is such vulgar language about vaginas and anuses "Christian-like?" I thought the Christian Bible said such things as "let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth (Ephesians 4:29)," "if anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man's religion is worthless (James 1:26)," and "every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment (Matthew 12:36)." Would this sort of language be acceptable in church? I doubt it. Also, regardless of whether you agree with Robertson's remarks, his remarks were hurtful towards other people, especially when it comes to ignorantly reducing homosexuality to a single sex act. Jesus taught that after "love G-d," the most important commandment is "love your neighbor as you love yourself (Mark 12:28-31)." Robertson should have had this in mind before he began the interview. No one is perfect, but if you're going to become an advocate for Christian values, you can't be chiding someone for sinning while sinning in the same breath. Such behavior is hypocritical, but should I be so surprised that conservative Christians in this country are defending his behavior rather than condemning it?

Robertson clearly made ignorant and insulting remarks. The fact that Robertson is more obsessed with the "sin of homosexuality" is reflective of how out of whack the prioritization of "Christian values" are in this country. However, was it so bad that Robertson should have been suspended in the first place?

Sarah Palin jumped in and said that Robertson's free speech was being violated. What conservatives conveniently forget is that the First and Fourteenth amendments apply to the government's infringement of free speech. As already illustrated, Robertson's comments went well beyond the opinion of "the Bible says homosexuality is a sin." Since Robertson is being suspended for specific comments that had nothing to do with religious belief, he can't even claim that A&E is violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

More to the point, A&E, which is a private entity, made the decision to suspend Robertson after his interview violated the morals clause in his contract, a contract which he voluntarily signed. Robertson was not expressing his private views with his closest buddies at the bar. He was doing an interview promoting his show. The comments he made reflected poorly on A&E, and A&E thus had the right, nay, the obligation to enforce the contract.

Briefly, a word about being persecuted for his religious beliefs. Robertson is only being suspended. Anyone who is thoughtless or brainless enough to even think that "this is a sign that Christians are persecuted in this country" or there is a "war on Christianity" needs to pick up a book on the history of the Jewish people. Christians aren't being barred from celebrating Christmas or Easter. The government is not shutting down churches or forcing Christians to live in ghettos or to work in certain professions. There are no pogroms or inquisitions against Christians in this country. This is not a sign of Christian persecution. There is no inalienable right to be on A&E. This is a sign that people are becoming more accepting of homosexuals. Get over it, Religious Right!

Also, I love how conservatives clamor about how dissenting opinions are being punished in this country. However, do you think this is the first time someone has gotten punished for saying something offensive or idiotic? Alec Baldwin was just fired for homophobic slurs. What about Paula Dean, Helen Thomas, Michael Richards, Ozzie Guillen, the Dixie Chicks, and Don Imus? We now live in a society that is more accepting of the LGBT community. Saying such comments is comparable to any other racial slur. Actions have consequences. Speech is a form of action, and Robertson was most definitely exercising his freedom of speech when making his remarks. When you say something offensive, you pay for the consequences. Isn't personal responsibility a key feature of conservatism, or does that not apply to homophobic statements?

When the Chick-fil-a incident happened last year, the standard conservative response to naysayers was "this is the free market at work, deal with it." The shoe is now on the other foot. A private company is now making a decision that conservatives do not like. If conservatives are unhappy with the decision, they can either boycott A&E or petition to have Duck Dynasty aired on another channel that tolerates homophobic sentiments. Otherwise, conservatives are only showing that anti-gay bigotry is more important of a value of conservatism than free markets or personal responsibility. Much to the Religious Right's dismay, Robertson's suspension was well within the realm of free markets. Employers need to be given some freedom to run their business they way they see fit if there is to be a society built on freedom (see my take on anti-discrimination laws).

In spite of the progress that has been made with LGBT equality, Robertson's remarks are a reflection of how this country still has a long way to go in terms of shaping people's views of LGBT individuals. I hope that A&E doesn't cave into pressure and sends a message about how anti-gay statements do not belong in civil society.


  1. I disagree in so many places, it's hard to know where to start. I've published comments in my blog and on Facebook. I'll just pick on a couple of points. First, you suggest that there was a morals clause but the LA Times article you cited only suggests the possibility of a clause. But it's unlikely: given the fact the family pushed back on the network's desire to do away with episode-ending prayer, and given the fact A&E knew about Phil Robertson's gay-related opinions, I seriously doubt that Robertson would have agreed to keeping silent on opinions predating his hire. What you need to ask is if the anti-gay sermons were comparable to the comments Robertson made in the magazine, on what moral authority did A&E act? This was little more than bowing to the forces of political correctness--something no self-respecting libertarian would ever abide me. Second, you opinion of the First Amendment and why it's relevant is conceptually flawed. This comes under the concept of negative liberties. To the extent politically correct thugs attempted to declare economic warfare on Robertson, it was a de facto attempt to censor Robertson or anyone else whom voiced an "unacceptable" opinion. Any group--the government or a group of thugs--violates the rights of the person: what freedom is there if you can't speak, publish, etc., because of any kind of force--not just physical, but economics, one's livelihood?

    1. Ronald,

      I'll say this much for you: you argue better than a lot of conservatives I've debated, as I can see by your blog entry on the topic…..although after reading it, I can also state that I find so many issues with your argument that I wouldn't even know where to begin. I took another look at the LA Times article, and you are correct that it was only a possibility, and I stand corrected. However, it's equally speculative that Robertson read the contract in its entirety and understood what he was getting himself into (I used to work with contracts at a Fortune 500 company. You'd be surprised at how often people didn't "read the fine print" before signing the contract). It's also speculative that there is a non-discolusre agreement in the contract, which means we won't have a way of verifying it. Another speculation: these larger entities tend to have sizable legal divisions, so it's improbable that A&E would have pursued their course of action if there were no contractual basis for it. Either way, this argument is based on assumptions made, and I'll leave it at that.

      I'll go to your second point, which has more bearing on the conversation. "Bowing to the forces of political correctness." I used to be conservative. I used that framing device more than once, and it's not going to fly. You think that I am misconstruing the First Amendment? Just as a refresher on the First Amendment: "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." The Fourteenth Amendment applies this abridgment to state and local government. I also know of no Supreme Court case that would remotely interpret the First Amendment the way you're suggesting. Looking at Supreme Court case precedent, there is no danger of the freedom of speech being quashed. Just some examples of the freedom of speech SCOTUS has protected: desecration of the American flag (Texas v. Johnson), a Nazi rally in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood (National Socialist Party of America v. Village of Skokie), owning pornography (Stanley v. Georgia), depictions of animal cruelty (United States v. Stevens), and the right for the Westboro Baptist Church to disseminate its hate message on public property (Snyder v. Phelps).

      You think that A&E's decision is a form of aggression? Aside from meeting with A&E executives to talk (freedom of speech) and a press release (freedom of the press), I fail to see what "coercive pressures" they used to twist A&E's arm. Also, I'm curious as to whether you object to the pressures being put on A&E to reinstate Robertson, or if that's okay because it's not "politically correct." You come off as an anarcho-capitalist or a conservative who selectively and inconsistently applies the concept of negative liberties. Under this line of thought, boycotts and petitions to enact change would be coercion. Employers demanding certain work hours or other demands can be perceived as coercive. So can recently-arrived immigrants who feel "coerced" to learn English. What about non-economic forms of coercion? There are gay people that are coerced to stay in the closet. Does that bother you? Any authority figure in life, whether it's a boss, priest or pastor, parent, or teacher, uses some form of coercion. Whether it comes in the form of individual, societal, or governmental pressures, there will be some sort of coercive pressures. No one lives a coercion-free life. That's just the way the world works.