Free Speech, Costly Consequences

Phil Robertson has the right to say what he wants – but not to be protected from his comments.

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This Dec. 21, 2013 photo shows a sign in West Monroe, La., supporting Phil Robertson, the patriarch of the popular "Duck Dynasty" series. Robertson was suspended last week for disparaging comments he made to GQ magazine about gay people.
A sign in West Monroe, La., supporting Phil Robertson of the "Duck Dynasty" television show.

Somewhere between vitriolic, anonymous Internet comments and reality TV, we seem to have lost the idea of the true meaning of the First Amendment. The first afterthought by the Founding Fathers says that government cannot interfere with free speech or religion or assembly. It does not say that someone can be an asshat and suffer no consequences for it.

Those who are fans of "Duck Dynasty" (and that's an issue to take up at another time) are upset because Phil Robertson, one of the characters on the show (if you can call someone a "character" who is not actually an actor), made some remarkably offensive and just stupid comments in a magazine interview about male homosexuality. It's too crude and again, just stunningly stupid, to repeat, but the gist of it is that he cannot understand why gay sex would be more appealing than heterosexual sex. Well, no Phil, if you're heterosexual, you probably would not get it.

And you know what? Gays don't get how you can do whatever it is you might do with women. That's because they are gay, and you are straight. Pretty simple. Seriously.

[ 2013: The Year in Cartoons]

But the remarks were so offensive to the point of being hateful that A&E suspended him from his own reality show (now, that's an accomplishment!). The anti-gay community fought back with petitions on and through a website called IStandWithPhil, in which his supporters say:

While the LGBT community may be offended by his opposing viewpoint, your rash, discriminatory, and unfair treatment toward Mr. Robertson – a recognized symbol of the faith community – is a slap in the face to Faith Driven Consumers and everyday Americans alike.

Well, Pope "who am I to judge" Francis might not agree with that assessment, but it doesn't matter. Being religious does not give anyone the right to say whatever he or she wants without consequences. And nor does the First Amendment, despite what Sarah Palin and her fellow not-constitutional scholars contend.

Try this at home or at work: Go into your office and tell your boss he's overpaid, incompetent and only got his job because he slept with the boss. See how well it works, claiming First Amendment rights, when you get fired.

[ Check out our gallery of political cartoons.]

Or do this – go home to your spouse and tell her you think he or she has let him- or her-self go, you find them physically repellant, and will be sleeping with people 20 years younger until the spouse spruces up – and maybe not even then. While your beloved is filing divorce papers, claim indignantly that the First Amendment allows you to say such things. Hey! It's your opinion, and everyone has a right to his opinion!

Well, that's true. But people don't have to like it, and they don't have to keep paying you to perform on what is a pretty idiotic (though apparently popular) TV show. The fact that you can't be sent to jail for saying how you think doesn't mean it's a nice thing or smart thing to say. It just may expose you for the jerk you are. You might not have any trouble with the feds. But you might not have a TV show, either – or many friends, for that matter.