- 4 years ago
- Wedding: November 2015
I noticed that a lot of people seem confused about what exactly the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution means on the thread discussing the comments made by Phil Robertson (of “Duck Dynasty”). So, here is a little guide to help people understand.
Let’s start with the actual wording of the Amendment:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.“
(To read the full Constitution, please see the text on the U.S. Government’s Website)
So what does that actually mean?
It means exactly what it says – That Congress (the U.S. Government) can’t create a law that infringes on the Press’ right to publish something. It also states that the Government can’t make a law that infringes on someone’s right to express their opinions, to practice their religion, to start a petition, or to protest peacefully.
What the Amendment doesn’t cover?
1. Private Businesses and Companies that are not owned / affiliated with the U.S. Government.
2. It does not protect an individual from potential consequences, such as being fired from their job or facing libel and slander lawsuits.
3. It does not protect and individual’s right to be on a reality show.
What does that mean for Phil Roberston and “Duck Dynasty?”
It means that this is not a situation where the First Amendment applies. Mr. Roberston expressed his opinion on certain topics and, as was their right as his employer, A&E suspended him indefinitely for attracting negative attention to the “Duck Dynasty” brand and for reflecting badly on A&E. Freedom of Speech, quite simply, is not the freedom to go around saying whatever you want without risking consequences. Freedom always comes with responsibilities.
Additionally, Mr. Robertson’s right to practice his religion has not been infringed upon either. He is still able to worship as all Christians can worship – by attending Church, performing good works, reading his Bible, and praying. A&E has not told him he can’t worship as he chooses – they have simply let him know that they will not tolerate disrespectful speech from an employee who is representing their Company or brand.
Finally, the general public is not privy to what the contract he signed with A&E would have stated. It’s entirely possible, however, that there was a clause concerning behavior or employee conduct included in the contract. If there was – and it specifically mentioned that his actions and words could not reflect badly on the Company or the Brand – then he may have broken the terms of the contract by giving the comments he did in the manner he said them.
What about Anti-Discrimination Laws?
Lets take a look at what the FCC says:
- The complaining party must be a member of a statutorily protected class;
- S/he was subjected to unwelcome verbal or physical conduct related to his or her membership in that protected class;
- The unwelcome conduct complained of was based on his or her membership in that protected class;
- The unwelcome conduct affected a term or condition of employment and/or had the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with his or her work performance and/or creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment.”
Lets break this down one by one.
Item 1: Is Mr. Robertson a member of a statuorily protected class? Yes. He identifies as a Christian and religion is one of the categories protected by Anti-Discrimination Laws.
Item 2: Was Mr. Robertson subjected to unwelcome physical or verbal comments by his employer? Let’s take a look at A&E’s public statement in this instance:
“”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.’ 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 networks has placed Phil under hiatus from filming indefinitely.”
A&E made no reference to religion whatsoever in their statement. They did mention his personal beliefs, but that refers to the way he stated the actual comments he made about the LGBTQ community – among other minority groups – and not his actual religion. It’s possible that he was subjected to unwelcome comments in private, but as far as the public knows right now Item 2 would not apply.
Item 3: Was Mr. Robertson’s suspension the result of his being a member of a protected class? No. It was the result of the way he stated his beliefs, not the fact that he held them. As such, Item 3 does not apply.
Item 4: Was Mr. Robertson’s suspension the result of unwelcome conduct by his employer? If A&E or a member of their company specifically went out of the way to specifically criticize Mr. Robertson for being a Christian – and it can be proved in the Court of Law – then this would apply. If A&E can show that the case has no basis and they made no mention of religion specifically, then no it would not apply. Therefore as far as the general public knows Item 4 does not currently apply.
So what does all that mean?
It means that based off the currently available evidence, Mr. Robertson has no Discrimination case. He also does not have a case claiming his Constitutional Rights were violated either.
Anyone with anything additional to add, please feel free to add it in the comments!