Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

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

By LZ Granderson, CNN Contributor
December 20, 2013 -- Updated 1547 GMT (2347 HKT)
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
December 27, 2014 -- Updated 0127 GMT (0927 HKT)
The ability to manipulate media and technology has increasingly become a critical strategic resource, says Jeff Yang.
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1617 GMT (0017 HKT)
Today's politicians should follow Ronald Reagan's advice and invest in science, research and development, Fareed Zakaria says.
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
Artificial intelligence does not need to be malevolent to be catastrophically dangerous to humanity, writes Greg Scoblete.
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1505 GMT (2305 HKT)
Historian Douglas Brinkley says a showing of Sony's film in Austin helped keep the city weird -- and spotlighted the heroes who stood up for free expression
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Tanya Odom that by calling only on women at his press conference, the President made clear why women and people of color should be more visible in boardrooms and conferences
December 27, 2014 -- Updated 2327 GMT (0727 HKT)
When oil spills happen, researchers are faced with the difficult choice of whether to use chemical dispersants, authors say
December 25, 2014 -- Updated 0633 GMT (1433 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says the legislature didn't have to get involved in regulating how people greet each other
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2312 GMT (0712 HKT)
Marc Harrold suggests a way to move forward after the deaths of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
Simon Moya-Smith says Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, who was killed by law enforcement officers, deserves justice.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
Val Lauder says that for 1,700 years, people have been debating when, and how, to celebrate Christmas
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Raphael Sperry says architects should change their ethics code to ban involvement in designing torture chambers
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 0335 GMT (1135 HKT)
Paul Callan says Sony is right to call for blocking the tweeting of private emails stolen by hackers
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1257 GMT (2057 HKT)
As Christmas arrives, eyes turn naturally toward Bethlehem. But have we got our history of Christmas right? Jay Parini explores.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
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.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2115 GMT (0515 HKT)
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.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1811 GMT (0211 HKT)
Terrorism and WMD -- it's easy to understand why these consistently make the headlines. But small arms can be devastating too, says Rachel Stohl.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 1808 GMT (0208 HKT)
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.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
New York's decision to ban hydraulic fracturing was more about politics than good environmental policy, argues Jeremy Carl.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
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.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 2239 GMT (0639 HKT)
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0112 GMT (0912 HKT)
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1709 GMT (0109 HKT)
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.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2345 GMT (0745 HKT)
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 2134 GMT (0534 HKT)
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
ADVERTISEMENT