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Phil Robertson : Did A&E Violate His First Amendment Rights?

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If you have followed Facebook or any other social media platform, you’ve probably heard about Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty being removed from the show indefinitely after he expressed controversial views on gay marriage and race in a magazine. You probably have friends with knowledge of all things Duck spreading petitions, starting boycotts, demanding A&E bring him back, and some are going as far as to say A&E violated his free speech rights.

Let’s get it out of the way here that this article is not about his views on gay marriage or race. I fully expect at least 80 other blogs and news outlets to have covered this far more thoroughly than I could. As my knowledge of anything Duck Dynasty related is basically limited to one episode that I was not paying attention to in any capacity whatsoever, I cannot in good conscience evaluate this man’s views in a fair way. Rather, this article will cover the legal nuances of the hiatus/possible termination of Phil Robertson.

In other words, is Phil Robertson’s firing a violation of free speech and is A&E wrong?

I tend to have more conservative/libertarian viewpoints on a number of issues. You’re probably expecting me to go on a tirade about how the PC police are out to lynch good Christians like Phil Robertson and silence the 1st Amendment after that sentence like half the conservatives on Facebook. However I’m not. The thing about this is that it has nothing to do with the 1st Amendment.

The 1st Amendment only covers the speech to people and the government. In other words the government punishing you for the things you say is a 1st Amendment violation. Your employer doing so is not. By law, A&E is fully in the right to fire Phil. After all, employers have total right to fire anyone for any reason they see fit.

Now theoretically, it could be possible to make a law to protect employees from being fired over such things. Heck, it might even be possible to form a strong union of TV stars to prevent such things but good luck getting it by all the people who think employers should be allowed to fire people for any arbitrary reason they can think of and employees should have no protection whatsoever.

Oddly enough, these people are also the ones most likely spamming Facebook with bring back Phil messages and how A&E is violating the 1st Amendment (in spite of them not being a government entity so they can’t really do that). They are the ones who rant and rave about how evil unions are and how employee protections of any sort are only for lazy bums who sleep on the job. This is merely their political views in action. Only said views are now affecting something they like.

Does Phil Robertson have the right to express his views? Yes. However, A&E is fully in its right to fire Phil. I’m not saying it is right one way or the other. Just that they have the right to do so. The boycotters have the right to boycott and petition.

However, it would be wise of them to remember the text of the 1st Amendment. It would also be wise of them to remember that if employers have complete and total freedom to fire anyone they want, as many of Phil Robertson’s supporters have spent the last few decades fighting for, they might use that freedom in a way they don’t like. Be careful what you wish for. In this case they got it.

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Robert D. Cobb
Founder, Publisher and CEO of INSCMagazine. Works have appeared and featured in places such as Forbes, Huffington Post, ESPN and NBC Sports to name a few. Follow me on Twitter at @RobCobb_INSC, email me at robert.cobb@theinscribermag.com

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