Free speech is a right that cannot be infringed upon by the United States government, as guaranteed by the first amendment to the US Constitution. This is without a doubt a good thing, but such a guarantee has led to an atmosphere in this country that leads people to believe that the US Constitution prevents people from treating others differently based upon what they say.
This has been a major point of contention over the past week, as the patriarch of A&E’s Duck Dynasty reality TV show, Phil Robertson, was put on indefinite suspension after GQ released an interview in which he expressed his views on sin. Unsurprisingly, the devoutly Christian Robertson remarked that homosexuality was a root cause of various immoral behaviors, claiming, “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.” For this, and further comments, A&E cut Robertson loose and immediately released a statement noting that those statements were Robertson’s alone and that A&E was a long-time supporter of gay rights.
Many social conservatives have been up in arms over A&E’s decision to remove Robertson from the show, claiming that A&E is violating Robertson’s freedom of speech. Sarah Palin responded to the suspension, stating: “Free Speech is an endangered species. Those ‘intolerants’ hatin’ [sic] and taking on the Duck Dynasty patriarch for voicing his personal opinion are taking on all of us.” Now, disagreeing with A&E on what they decided to do is all fine and good, but these individuals need to recognize that A&E has not violated Phil Robertson’s freedom of speech. Robertson said what he wished to say, and he can have his beliefs — whether or not one agrees with him is beside the point. While he can have whatever beliefs he wishes and he can say whatever he wishes, A&E has every right to fire him for the things that he chooses to say.
The issue here is that a right to freedom of speech is being focused on, and, in doing so, the freedom of a company to fire any individual who is perceived to be acting contrarily to the ideals of the company is being disregarded.
If an employee of a small business were to say racist or lewd things to customers, it would be entirely within the rights of the company to fire that employee for not only acting against the moral standards of the owners, but for hurting business. Such a termination would not be frowned upon, and could be seen as a smart move if profitability is seen as a priority. Phil Robertson’s case is no different. A&E has perceived that he expressed views that both disagree with their stance on gay rights and have the potential to turn away potential viewers of Duck Dynasty and A&E as a whole.
Phil Robertson has his freedom of speech, and he can exercise it whenever he pleases — but he has to be prepared to deal with the ramifications of his words, just like anyone else. Cries of injustice from social conservatives like Sarah Palin will continue, no doubt, and they have every right to lodge complaints against A&E or boycott that network altogether, just as A&E’s executives have the right to operate their company in a way that they see fit.