Known to some simply as "the Duck Commander," Phil Robertson grew up below the poverty line in rural backwoods Louisiana before going on to college at Louisiana Tech University, being drafted by the NFL (and subsequently turning it down), marrying his high-school sweetheart Kay and becoming a self-professed born-again Christian. He began the family business in a small shed by fashioning duck calls from cedar trees. Eventually his whistles caught the attention of hunting enthusiasts and kicked off the family "dynasty." Last March, A+E premiered a reality series centering around the Richardson men — Phil, his brother Si, and Phil's sons Jase, Willie and Jep — called Duck Dynasty. The show has since become somewhat of a cultural phenomenon, breaking ratings records and drawing in 14 million viewers on average each week. The family is currently under scrutiny for comments Phil made during an interview with writer Drew Magary for GQ's January issue.
The quotes in question
It seems like, to me a vagina — as a man — would be more desirable than a man's anus. That's just me. I'm just thinking: There's more there! She's got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I'm saying? But hey, sin: it's not logical, my man. It's just not logical.
Everything is blurred on what's right and what's wrong... Sin becomes fine. Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men.
I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once. Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I'm with the blacks, because we're white trash. We're going across the field.... They're singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, 'I tell you what: These doggone white people'—not a word!... Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.
Two major camps have emerged in light of the controversy: those hunkering down in support of Phil, citing free speech and religious liberty; and those bunking with A+E, citing civil rights infringement.
From fans and family (who've released a statement saying they stand by their patriarch) to conservative politicians like Texas senator Ted Cruz, supporters have been speaking out on Robertson's behalf. Many of these supporters say that Phil's right to free speech is being obliterated, as is his right to express his religious beliefs without persecution. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal went on record to commend the Robertsons for being "great citizens of the state of Louisiana," adding, "The politically correct crowd is tolerant of all viewpoints, except those they disagree with."
Others contend that, in this country, it seems everyone has the right to free speech and freedom from religious persecution — except for Christians. And, along those lines, didn't A+E kind of figure when they signed up a Bible-thumping, rural backwoods Louisiana, taxidermied-animal decor kind of family for a reality series that said family might have a few opinions that could be considered politically incorrect?
As expected, many Christians are expressing support for Phil Robertson. Some agree with both his beliefs and his decision to vocalize them, while others don't share his beliefs but still believe he has a right to express them. Furthermore, they take offense at the idea that quotes from the interview illustrating Robertson's core Christian principles of tolerance and love are being swept under the rug. Quotes such as, "We're Bible-thumpers who just happened to end up on television. You put in your articles that the Robertson family really believes strongly that if the human race loved each other and they loved God, we would just be better off," and "We never, ever judge someone on who's going to heaven, hell. That's the Almighty's job."
The outcry against Robertson's comments has been equally passionate, beginning with A+E. "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. "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."
Also quick to voice their disdain was GLAAD, who referred to the Duck Dynasty patriarch's opinions as some of "the vilest and most extreme" ever printed about the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. In response to Robertson's suspension, the organization applauded A+E. "By taking quick action and removing Robertson from future filming, A+E has sent a strong message that discrimination is neither a Christian nor an American value," said GLAAD spokesperson Wilson Cruz.
In regard to the argument over free speech, many A+E supporters assert that free speech does not give a person the right to infringe upon the civil rights of others — in this case the LGBT community and the black community. The argument is also being made that Robertson's right to free speech was not, in fact, violated. He has not been arrested or prevented from expressing himself further. Rather, he was suspended from his job which, they say, is well within the rights of any employer who feels his or her company's best interest is at stake.
The Robertsons' response: Early on Wednesday, Robertson released the following statement: "I myself am a product of the '60s; I centered my life around sex, drugs and rock and roll until I hit rock bottom and accepted Jesus as my Savior. My mission today is to go forth and tell people about why I follow Christ and also what the Bible teaches, and part of that teaching is that men and women are meant to be together. However, I would never treat anyone with disrespect just because they are different from me. 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." In a prepared statement, the family said of the show, "We have had a successful working relationship with A+E but, as a family, we cannot imagine the show going forward without our patriarch at the helm. We are in discussions with A+E to see what that means for the future of Duck Dynasty."
Writer's note: We at SheKnows have tried to provide a thorough unbiased account of this controversy, and we absolutely want to hear your thoughts via comment, but please keep it classy. One thing supporters from both sides seem to agree on is that hate begets more hate, and we couldn't agree more. Don't propagate the cycle.
Photo credits: Getty Images, Mr. Blue/WENN.com