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'Duck Dynasty' reactions debate: Free speech or bigotry?

By Breeanna Hare, CNN
December 19, 2013 -- Updated 2024 GMT (0424 HKT)
Phil Robertson in A&E's
Phil Robertson in A&E's "Duck Dynasty" has been suspended indefinitely from the program.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The fallout over Phil Robertson being suspended from "Duck Dynasty" has been immense
  • It's expanded into a critical discussion about faith, freedom of speech and bigotry
  • On one side, some think Robertson shouldn't be reprimanded for answering a question
  • On the other, there's the argument that bigotry shouldn't be protected

(CNN) -- If there's one thing we can all agree on when it comes to "Duck Dynasty" star Phil Robertson and the fallout from his interview with GQ, it's that everyone has an opinion.

And, to be honest, that's about the only thing we can agree on.

In the 24 hours since GQ released its January profile of Robertson and his family, who draw millions to A&E with their reality show "Duck Dynasty," social media has seen more than its typical overuse of exclamation points and excessive capitalization.

The back-and-forth has gotten so extensive, we wouldn't be surprised if you've forgotten what you're even arguing about.

But to be fair, this roiling debate is so addictive because the news here -- that Robertson shared viewpoints and beliefs that many, including A&E, found offensive, and was suspended indefinitely as a result -- gets to the heart of conversations many of us care about.

This discussion may have been started with a single question: What does Phil Robertson, a professed born-again Christian, consider to be sinful? But it's now sprawled into even more complex territories like media responsibility and the difference -- if there is one -- between having an opinion and being a bigot.

Facebook chatter about "Duck Dynasty" -- The bearded boys got caught up in a flap when patriarch Phil Robertson was suspended for making controversial remarks about gays and blacks in an interview for the January issue of GQ. We ran the numbers and were fascinated that so many women are talking about a show featuring outdoorsy, camouflage-covered hunters. Just a week ago, 71% of the people talking about Duck Dynasty on Facebook were women. Now that the boys are getting more attention, the genders are split a little more evenly and the ages are older. But still, more women.  Facebook chatter about "Duck Dynasty" -- The bearded boys got caught up in a flap when patriarch Phil Robertson was suspended for making controversial remarks about gays and blacks in an interview for the January issue of GQ. We ran the numbers and were fascinated that so many women are talking about a show featuring outdoorsy, camouflage-covered hunters. Just a week ago, 71% of the people talking about Duck Dynasty on Facebook were women. Now that the boys are getting more attention, the genders are split a little more evenly and the ages are older. But still, more women.
Facebook chatter about "Duck Dynasty" -- The bearded boys got caught up in a flap when patriarch Phil Robertson was suspended for making controversial remarks about gays and blacks in an interview for the January issue of GQ. We ran the numbers and were fascinated that so many women are talking about a show featuring outdoorsy, camouflage-covered hunters. Just a week ago, 71% of the people talking about Duck Dynasty on Facebook were women. Now that the boys are getting more attention, the genders are split a little more evenly and the ages are older. But still, more women.Facebook chatter about "Duck Dynasty" -- The bearded boys got caught up in a flap when patriarch Phil Robertson was suspended for making controversial remarks about gays and blacks in an interview for the January issue of GQ. We ran the numbers and were fascinated that so many women are talking about a show featuring outdoorsy, camouflage-covered hunters. Just a week ago, 71% of the people talking about Duck Dynasty on Facebook were women. Now that the boys are getting more attention, the genders are split a little more evenly and the ages are older. But still, more women.

That last topic has been particularly difficult to tease out. Robertson told GQ that he considers homosexual behavior, among other things, to be sinful. To some, Robertson did nothing more than answer a question during an off-camera interview. Whether one agrees with his statement or not, it's been said, is not the point -- he shouldn't have been reprimanded for honestly answering a question.

"I'm gay and I don't care what others think, nor should other people. This guy did not offend me," Sue Dimaio posted on CNN's Facebook page. "Some people have different beliefs, and I respect that. Let the guy stay on the show. There is something called free speech! Our freedom of speech is slowly being taken away from us, when it was once considered a huge part of the foundation of this country."

However, there are many others who read Robertson's words and saw the language of a bigot -- someone who treats members of a group with hatred and intolerance. In that view, his stance on homosexuality exceeds the boundaries of opinion or faith, and veers into discrimination.

" 'Is this man simply expressing his beliefs or spewing bigotry?' I don't see a distinction between the two," said another CNN.com commenter. "Whatever the 'reasons' you have for being bigoted, at the end of the day, it's still bigotry. You can't hide behind 'it's my religious beliefs' as a justification for bad behavior."

And that's where we all get stuck: One man's idea of what constitutes an opinion -- or a spiritually prescribed value system -- is another man's idea of hateful rhetoric.

This debate has even seeped into the political arena. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal issued a statement in defense of Robertson and his family, calling them "great citizens of the State of Louisiana."

"I don't agree with quite a bit of stuff I read in magazine interviews or see on TV. In fact, come to think of it, I find a good bit of it offensive," Jindal said. "But I also acknowledge that this is a free country and everyone is entitled to express their views. In fact, I remember when TV networks believed in the First Amendment. It is a messed up situation when Miley Cyrus gets a laugh, and Phil Robertson gets suspended."

The counterpoint to Jindal's position? A&E has the right to act on their belief that Robertson was in the wrong.

"We are extremely disappointed to have read Phil Robertson's comments in GQ, which are based on his own personal beliefs and are not reflected in the series 'Duck Dynasty,' " the network said in a statement Wednesday. "His personal views in no way reflect those of A&E Networks, who have always been strong supporters and champions of the LGBT community. The network has placed Phil under hiatus from filming indefinitely."

To many CNN.com commenters, including one with the intriguing handle "trollmuch," Robertson's freedom of speech hasn't been infringed upon: "He has a right to speak his mind, but A&E has the right to take action."

One voice that hasn't been heard from as much in this debate is that of the GQ profile's writer, Drew Magary. While the magazine isn't offering further comment on what's transpired, it did point CNN toward Magary's reflection and outtakes from the article posted on Deadspin.com.

The writer explains there that while he doesn't agree with Robertson's politics, he also isn't calling for the man's head.

"Whenever you meet face-to-face with people you don't necessarily see eye-to-eye with and talk to them and drink lots of beer with them, you're almost always more likely to understand them and like them. That's how it works," Magary writes.

"I don't agree with Phil's politics, and I have a lot of gay relatives and colleagues who would bristle at Phil's 'hate the sin, love the sinner' view of homosexuality. ... But I still like Phil and found him to be an otherwise decent fellow. I think it's all right to think that, and I think it's all right to hope that whatever fuss arises out of his comments -- it's happening already -- will soften him a bit toward what he believes to be wicked behavior. Consider this my own version of 'hate the sin, love the sinner.' "

A perspective which, we can all agree, is bound to elicit more opinions.

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