Beyond our surprise that a national uproar has erupted over the A&E Network's decision to suspend "Duck Dynasty" patriarch Phil Robertson over provocative comments about blacks and hellbound homosexuals in GQ magazine, we have no intention of wading into the precise meaning of Scripture, widely varying interpretations of it down through the ages and the fact that most folks cherry-pick parts of the Bible they like anyhow. But we do know a thing or two about the First Amendment -- and we're surprised to see so many people, including politicians who should know better, wildly misinterpreting it.
In the days since this controversy arose, many have claimed A&E's decision to suspend Robertson's role in yet-to-be-filmed, future episodes of the hit reality TV show is a violation of his First Amendment right (including one "concerned citizen" who told us that anyone who disagrees should have his tongue cut out). Well, here's a flash: Robertson, A&E executives, gay rights advocates, conservative champions, civil rights groups and family-value organizations all have a right to speak out -- and have done just that in this bizarre embroglio.
But the First Amendment only precludes government from restricting people's free speech. It doesn't entitle one to have his or her own reality show. By all accounts, Robertson and the rest of his family have continued opining, which is their absolute right. Whether they continue to entertain on the A&E Network is another question.
In our free-enterprise system, businesses have a right to decide how their products are promoted and produced. And if A&E has qualms about Robertson's comments deeming homosexuality a sin and linking it to bestiality and his suggestion that blacks of his acquaintance had few complaints in the Jim Crow days -- if A&E worries all this may impact its bottom line or offend some of the show's audience of 14 million -- it has a right to suspend Robertson.
That said, we lay most blame for this cultural snafu at the feet of A&E officials and others who have benefited enormously from the flood of reality shows, many far more outrageous or provocative than "Duck Dynasty" and its heavily bearded cast. What did A&E expect when it put the spotlight on a Louisiana family's duck-call business where rough-as-a-cob members would say and do anything for attention?
The fact these shows are produced by A&E week after week means they can't claim they were surprised when Phil Robertson, in his GQ interview, offered viewpoints that have obviously offended or outraged one-half of the nation, even as they resonate comfortably with the other half.
So much ado about nothing? We wouldn't go that far. But networks shouldn't insult our IQ by putting such rollicking, real-life characters on air -- and then react in shock when they say exactly what's on their minds. Our only real question: Why on earth was GQ of all magazines interviewing Phil Robertson?