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'Duck Dynasty' star's free speech rights weren't violated

By LZ Granderson, CNN Contributor
updated 10:47 AM EST, Fri December 20, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • "Duck Dynasty" star suspended due to controversial remarks in GQ interview
  • LZ Granderson says it's a mistake to say the TV network is violating First Amendment
  • First Amendment stops government from limiting free speech, he notes
  • Granderson: Constitution doesn't prevent society from responding to hateful speech

Editor's note: LZ Granderson writes a weekly column for CNN.com. A senior writer for ESPN and lecturer at Northwestern University, the former Hechinger Institute fellow has had his commentary recognized by the Online News Association, the National Association of Black Journalists and the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association. Follow him on Twitter @locs_n_laughs.

(CNN) -- Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal got involved in the "Duck Dynasty" controversy Thursday by tweeting his response to A&E's decision to suspend Phil Robertson for his inflammatory remarks in a recent GQ interview.

"I remember when TV networks believed in the First Amendment," he wrote, adding, "it is a messed up situation when Miley Cyrus gets a laugh, and Phil Robertson gets suspended."

The truth is it is a messed up situation when a governor rumored to have his sights on the presidency doesn't understand the breadth of the First Amendment.

LZ Granderson
LZ Granderson

The Federal Communications Commission did not send officials into the office of Nancy Dubuc, president of A&E Networks. The FBI did not threaten to put Robertson away, and the Internal Revenue Service didn't freeze his bank accounts.

This is what the First Amendment protects us from -- laws being made that restrict freedom of religion, the press and/or speech. It does not protect us from how society responds to the expression of one's religion, the press or speech.

Robertson's boss punished him for his remarks. The government didn't.

Ben Ferguson: I'd fire Phil Robertson
Lemon: Comments are deeply offensive
The redneck world of 'Duck Dynasty'

Now for those out of the loop, Robertson -- a 67-year-old Louisiana native and a star of "Duck Dynasty" who holds a master's in education -- said, "I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person," and the black people he worked with "were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues."

He also compared homosexuality to bestiality and quoted a Bible verse that essentially said anyone who is an adulterer -- which according to Matthew 5:32, includes "anyone who marries a divorced woman" -- is going to hell.

There's a lot to chew on in the interview. (To his credit, Robertson issued somewhat of a mea culpa which, in part, read, "We are all created by the Almighty and like Him, I love all of humanity. We would all be better off if we loved God and loved each other.")

But the interview had a lot for some to be offended by, especially given the number of black, gay and divorced people there are in the United States. And while conservatives such as Sarah Palin want to drape Robertson's remarks with the banner of Christianity, the truth is not everyone who identifies as a Christian subscribes to anti-gay beliefs.

Just as not everyone who identifies as a Christian believes black people were happier before the civil rights movement or that marrying a divorced woman is adultery. This variation in religious expression in general and Christian denomination in particular are also protected by the First Amendment.

Not that it really matters.

Robertson didn't falsely yell fire in a crowded theater -- which Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. said was not protected by the First Amendment back in 1919 -- so he is legally free to say whatever he wants to GQ about anyone he wants.

But that does not mean he is protected from how people react to what he says.

People like his bosses.

Or those who make decisions about advertising.

Or viewers.

This is where Jindal -- as well as those who believe Robertson's suspension violates his constitutional right to free speech -- get it wrong.

You can say some stupid stuff -- whether it's Paula Deen dropping the N-word, Alec Baldwin dropping the F-word, Jesse Jackson using a derogatory word for Jewish people as he talks about New York City -- or Bobby Knight infamously saying, "'I think that if rape is inevitable, relax and enjoy it.'' -- and the First Amendment will keep you from going to jail. But it is not a get-out-of-jail-free card in the eyes of society.

And if you don't believe me -- try walking into your boss' office and call him or her a big fat idiot with ugly children.

Then see if "freedom of speech" helps you keep your job.

Follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of LZ Granderson.

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