The biggest story so far surrounding this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) is the announcement that Phil Robertson, the controversial star of the hit A&E show Duck Dynasty, will receive the second annual Andrew Breitbart First Amendment Award.
No matter how much new buzz the announcement brings CPAC, the decision betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of how free speech works, and where the future of nationally competitive conservatism lies.
At the end of 2013, Robertson was briefly suspended by the network over remarks he made in a GQ interview calling homosexuality sinful and comparing it to bestiality. At the time, his suspension sparked a culture war flare-up between gay rights supporters and social conservatives, who felt Robertson’s freedom of speech was being suppressed.
However, the Duck Dynasty flap (pun intended) was a dispute within a private organization well within its rights to take the action it did. A&E had the authority to suspend Robertson as soon as he voluntarily signed the contract for the show, no how it handled the controversy afterwards.
Had the government taken Duck Dynasty off the air, I’d be up in arms, even as a member of the very LGBT community he marginalized. But that is not what happened here.
The First Amendment protects Americans from government censorship. A network’s decision to craft the messages it broadcasts is itself an exercise of free speech.
And let’s not forget that A&E’s decision to reinstate Robertson after vociferous protests proves that the First Amendment was as healthy as ever. The government didn’t force anyone to do anything here.
Just as many argue that evangelical Christian bakers should not be forced to make wedding cakes for marriages they oppose, consistency demands that neither should a private television network be forced to air opinions it doesn’t want to promote. Freedom of speech cuts both ways, and conservatives who truly care about promoting the values of the Founding Fathers will defend it regardless of its popularity.