When people sign the "I Stand With Phil" petition, what is it that they're actually standing with? You've probably heard the following or seen it written: "I stand with Phil Robertson because freedom of speech is under attack!"
The First Amendment of the American Constitution defines freedom of speech as the following:
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
Despite American citizens repeatedly saying is our freedom of speech under attack based on the drama surrounding a reality television show, this just isn't the case. Unless Congress and all fifty states passed laws while we were sleeping.
What is being argued regarding Phil Robertson is really about bigotry in America: The freedom to hate and hate openly. The problem is that yes, you are free to do that. This is why the KKK and other hate groups are able to have parades and meetings, despite a history of murder and terrorist-actions orchestrated by persons related to such groups. Yes, as an American you are free to hate other people for any reason you want to or for no sensible reason at all. No one has taken that right away.
Even certain politicians have gotten it wrong on that front:
I remember when TV networks believed in the First Amendment. http://t.co/IK2fvrqGPn
— Gov. Bobby Jindal (@BobbyJindal) December 19, 2013
Free speech is an endangered species. Those “intolerants” hatin’ and taking on the Duck Dynasty patriarch for... http://t.co/yJXfwbsDLT
— Sarah Palin (@SarahPalinUSA) December 19, 2013
Millions of Americans being up in arms about a scripted television show is embarrassing enough on the global stage. But up in arms about something that is not true regarding our very own Constitution? A sign that many are either willfully ignorant or just out-and-out uninformed.
Hate speech is protected by the Constitution until it becomes "fighting words" or something that will lead to imminent harm or violence. This was the decision in the landmark 1992 United States Supreme Court ruling on R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul. American citizens are still free to hold opinions that are unpopular.
However, you cannot hold an unpopular opinion and be unprepared to see consequences for that opinion or actions that back it up. The reality is that we are living in a world where people are changing, and the popular opinions of yesteryear are going. Remember, once upon a time it was seen as perfectly Christian to burn down churches or hate someone for the color of their skin. Now, It's no longer seen as okay to ostracize people for their race. We are increasingly see sexual orientation as something that it is less and less okay to demean or hate without a negative response. And religion is simply no longer seen as a valid reason for justifying this form of bigotry.
Bigotry, when it falls outside of social mores, is often seen also as bad for business. This is why when ratings and advertising dollars are threatened by unaccepted forms of bigotry, the unpopular bigots tend to go out the window right along with their opinions. This is about money for the powers that be, not Robertson and not the people that support him. Most Americans are not opposed to same sex marriage and don't approve of homophobia. Even if "Duck Dynasty" appeals to an audience that is fine with discriminatory behavior and opinions, the network has other shows, other audiences, and other advertisers to think about. Whether the angry like it or not, their loud voice is but a whisper in the ocean of money to be made and accolades to be had.
People can write as many petitions for Phil Robertson as they want to: A&E is not the United States government or a state government or even a city government. It's a television network looking to protect its brand and be on the right side of history (and its consumer base). History is never kind to bigotry. You may be proud to put your name on a petition today, but ask the people in photographs like this or this how history remembers them. You should be careful regarding what you sign and why you think you're signing it: You could find yourself wrong on more counts than you know.
Image via FranAlva