Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

'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.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 1:33 AM EST, Thu December 25, 2014
Danny Cevallos says the legislature didn't have to get involved in regulating how people greet each other
updated 6:12 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Marc Harrold suggests a way to move forward after the deaths of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
updated 8:36 AM EST, Wed December 24, 2014
Simon Moya-Smith says Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, who was killed by law enforcement officers, deserves justice.
updated 2:14 PM EST, Wed December 24, 2014
Val Lauder says that for 1,700 years, people have been debating when, and how, to celebrate Christmas
updated 3:27 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Raphael Sperry says architects should change their ethics code to ban involvement in designing torture chambers
updated 10:35 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Paul Callan says Sony is right to call for blocking the tweeting of private emails stolen by hackers
updated 7:57 AM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
As Christmas arrives, eyes turn naturally toward Bethlehem. But have we got our history of Christmas right? Jay Parini explores.
updated 11:29 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
The late Joe Cocker somehow found himself among the rock 'n' roll aristocracy who showed up in Woodstock to help administer a collective blessing upon a generation.
updated 4:15 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
History may not judge Obama kindly on Syria or even Iraq. But for a lame duck president, he seems to have quacking left to do, says Aaron Miller.
updated 1:11 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Terrorism and WMD -- it's easy to understand why these consistently make the headlines. But small arms can be devastating too, says Rachel Stohl.
updated 1:08 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
Ever since "Bridge-gate" threatened to derail Chris Christie's chances for 2016, Jeb Bush has been hinting he might run. Julian Zelizer looks at why he could win.
updated 1:53 PM EST, Sat December 20, 2014
New York's decision to ban hydraulic fracturing was more about politics than good environmental policy, argues Jeremy Carl.
updated 3:19 PM EST, Sat December 20, 2014
On perhaps this year's most compelling drama, the credits have yet to roll. But we still need to learn some cyber lessons to protect America, suggest John McCain.
updated 5:39 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
updated 8:12 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
updated 12:09 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
updated 6:45 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
updated 4:34 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
updated 2:51 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
updated 4:13 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
updated 7:55 AM EST, Wed December 10, 2014
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
updated 12:34 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
updated 8:42 AM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
updated 12:40 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT