The arguments from conservatives in support of Phil Robertson have invoked really big ideas like religious liberty and freedom of speech. These are fundamental tenets of the American way of life. If the controversy were really about these things, there would be reason to celebrate Robertson's reinstatement at A&E network. But, inconsistent reasoning and illogical uses of these ideals actually reveal that the positions of many of these conservatives are small-minded and desperate. They are desperate because on the topic of gay rights in America, they are losing. And, losing badly.
First, let's address the problems in their arguments:
Religious Liberty: If A&E had not caved on its suspension of Robertson, there would still be no limits placed on Robertson's religious liberty. Correctly understood, freedom of religion is about individuals and groups having liberty from government persecution. As an employer, A&E took action with an employee over publicly stated remarks that were not aligned with their brand. In general, would conservatives want to limit employers from being able to fire or suspend employees? That would be surprising to me since many conservatives, not all, vociferously argue against the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) which prohibits discrimination against LGBT folks when hiring or firing employees. Let's be clear: Robertson was not suspended because he is against same-sex marriage. There are plenty of folks who share that view, state it, and are not fired. Tom Cruise anyone? The issue with Robertson is the way in which he stated his position using vulgar and degrading terms. For instance, he accused gay folks of being terrorists. That would create one long "No Fly" list involving a group that loves its vacations. And, no remote location shoots for you, Robin Roberts!
It seems many are only concerned about religious liberty when it comes to their own faith. For instance, Sarah Palin, whose new book argues that the so-called "war" on Christmas is a threat against the religious liberty of Christians, was opposed to a mosque being erected near ground zero in Manhattan. She did so in an infamous Twitter post where she created the word "refudiate." While Louisiana's Governor Bobby Jindal called the end of Robertson's suspension a victory for religious liberty, he was very willing to share the same stage at the Voter Values Summit in 2010 with Bryan Fisher who argued that the United States should ban the building of any more mosques in our country. Jindal, a convert to Christianity, wasn't discussing religious liberties back then.
Freedom of Speech: This notion is continually misused in the discussion of Robertson's suspension from A&E. People have been stating that A&E took away Robertson's "freedom of speech" when they suspended him. This is ludicrous. Businesses have the right to take action with employees when their statements do not align with the company's mission or brand. So, what is freedom of speech? It is a key tenant of our society which protects citizens from the government preventing individuals or groups from stating their views. A business criticizing an employee is far different from the government legislating or criminalizing the content of our speech. Freedom of speech does not mean that the things we say are free from criticism from our employers or others. Debate and disagreement are hallmarks of a society that has free speech as its bedrock. Ironically, I think some individuals are misusing the notion of freedom of speech to shut the discussion down. So, if you disagree with them, you are against free speech? Sorry, folks. In a free society, criticism of Robertson's views is fair game.
I am not the first to wonder where the freedom of speech advocates were when the Dixie Chicks' music was banned from country radio after one of their stars challenged George Bush's war policies? How many of the folks misusing free speech in their support of Robertson signed petitions for HBO to fire Bill Maher because of some of his controversial statements on his Real Time show?
So, what's really going on here?
I think the right wing, especially its extreme members, know they have lost the bigger argument on gay rights. Just look at what has happened in their United States in the past few years: Gays are serving openly in the military, DOMA was struck down, and state after state is legalizing same-sex marriage. I mean -- Utah has same-sex marriage, people! During the Supreme Court case against DOMA and Prop 8, even Bill O'Reilly noted that the argument for gay marriage was more compelling than the argument against it which relied too heavily, in his opinion, on religious faith.
Most importantly, the demographics are daunting. On gay issues, young folks are a lost cause for the right wing. While these small battles over who says what will continue to rage on, the fact is that conservatives have lost the larger culture war on gay rights. So, they are left to rage on about things that feel rather petty as they invoke illogical and inconsistent arguments.
To these folks, I say go ahead and cling to "feel good" moments like signing petitions that support Robertson and his horrific world-view. Let them eat duck. Or, let them eat at Chick-fil-A. Meanwhile, as we move our eyes to other networks and our dollars to other restaurants, LGBT folks and their supporters will continue to win the bigger argument which involves greater and more significant consequences.