A&E, the television network that airs the embattled “Duck Dynasty” reality show, “has produced more than a half dozen programs with the assistance of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office,” according to the Georgia county’s Sheriff Phil Miller. In retaliation against the network’s decision to suspend Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson for making a series of deeply offensive remarks, A&E will no longer receive such assistance from Miller.
“A&E has suspended Phil Robertson for talking about his conservative Christian beliefs,” Miller claimed on his Facebook page, adding that he believes this “punishment” to be “unreasonable.” Though A&E has historically been able to rely on Miller’s office for assistance, “[t]hey will not do any more with my assistance while I am sheriff. It is time for someone other than Hollywood and the news media to stand up for what is right!”
It is not entirely clear exactly what kind of “assistance” Miller has provided the television network in the past, or what services he is now pledging to deny them in the future. To the extent that Miller is refusing to provide government services to A&E because he disagrees with the network’s broadly tolerant views, however, denying government services to the network would violate the First Amendment. Unlike A&E, which is a private company lawfully entitled to suspend or fire someone because they find the person’s views repulsive, the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office is a government agency bound by the First Amendment’s ban on viewpoint discrimination.
Additionally, Miller’s characterization of A&E’s reason for suspending Robertson is misleading at best. The Robertson’s family’s Christian faith is a central theme of Duck Dynasty, and episodes of the show typically end with Phil, the family’s patriarch, saying a prayer to his gathered family at the dinner table. Far from marginalizing the Robertson family’s devout faith, A&E gave Phil and his family a powerful vehicle to display their faith to millions of TV watchers.
So Robertson was not suspended because of his Christian faith. He was suspended because he made a series of racist, anti-gay and, somewhat bizarrely, anti-Shinto comments. Robertson suggested that African Americans were happier in the “[p]re-entitlement, pre-welfare” Jim Crow South. He blamed the Pearl Harbor attack on the prevalence of Shintoism (and lack of Christianity) in Japan. And then there was that whole discussion of the relative desirability of vaginas as compared to “a man’s anus.”
Any suggestion that racism, anti-gay views or intolerance of other faiths is somehow a core component of Christianity is not simply offensive to racial, religious and sexual minorities — it should be deeply offensive to Christians as well.