Conservatives are rallying around embattled Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson, who was suspended by A&E for remarks he made about homosexuality in a magazine interview.
The cable network placed the reality show star on indefinite hiatus Wednesday, leaving his status – and the future of the popular program – in doubt.
Robertson compared LGBT people to drunkards, thieves, prostitutes and adulterers in an interview published in GQ, drawing instant condemnation from gay rights groups and others.
“Everything is blurred on what’s right and what’s wrong. Sin becomes fine,” he said in the interview. “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.”
Fox News host Megyn Kelly said the decision to place Robertson on hiatus was made in haste.
“Is he ever coming back? It remains to be seen, but that will certainly shut down debate,” Kelly said. “There really won’t, I mean, he’s a Christian man -- I grant you, he did not say this in the kindest way – but why can’t there be a debate about it? Why can’t there be a back-and-forth, a discussion -- you know, that’s how he feels, and you say how you feel, instead of saying, ‘You are fired, you are basically canned.’”
Kelly said the consequences Robertson suffered would have a chilling effect on others who share his beliefs.
“No one else will feel comfortable saying similar things,” she warned.
That’s precisely the point, said one of her guests.
“It’s time we stop agreeing that religion can be used as a weapon to spew hate and cause people to feel bad about themselves,” said Democratic pollster Bernard Whitman.
Another panelist, conservative pundit Monica Crowley, complained that “the word police” had targeted Robertson over remarks that were simply “politically incorrect,” but she conceded the network had the right to discipline the TV star.
"You should be able to say what you want short of inciting violence," Crowley said. "A&E, though, has certain standards in practices. As an employee of A&E, A&E then has a right to say, 'what he said doesn't suit us.'"
In addition to his remarks about homosexuality, Robertson also suggested in the interview that black people he grew up with were happier under Jim Crow laws of segregation.
“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!” Robertson said. “Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.”
The Fox News panel, like much coverage of the reality show star’s remarks, did not address those comments on race.
Another Fox News host, Sean Hannity, complained the disciplinary actions against Robertson established a “slippery slope,” while a Christian broadcaster called the TV star an “American hero.”
“Phil Robertson is a new American hero,” said broadcaster Bryan Fischer, of the American Family Association, in a series of Twitter posts. “He said exactly what the great majority of Americans believe. Phil Robertson is right. It’s a simple matter of plumbing. Easy to figure out what is supposed to go where. And where not.”
Sarah Palin, a reality show star herself, also weighed in.
"Free speech is endangered species; those 'intolerants' hatin' & taking on Duck Dynasty patriarch for voicing personal opinion take on us all," Palin tweeted.
The fifth season of Duck Dynasty, which drew 9 million viewers for its recent Christmas special, premiers Jan. 15.
The cable network plans to continue the program without Robertson’s involvement, but he suggested in the GQ interview the series may already have run its course.
“Let’s face it,” he said. “Three, four, five years, we’re out of here. You know what I’m saying? It’s a TV show. This thing ain’t gonna last forever. No way.”
Watch this panel discussion posted online by Fox News: