By Patricia Reaney and Eric Kelsey
NEW YORK/LOS ANGELES Dec 19 The suspension of
TV personality Phil Robertson of A&E's hit reality show "Duck
Dynasty" for making anti-gay comments has sparked a politically
charged debate about religion and tolerance while casting doubt
on the series' future.
Robertson, the patriarch of the backwater Louisiana clan on
the reality show about hunting, fishing and domestic squabbles,
was put on indefinite "hiatus" by the cable network A&E for his
remarks to GQ magazine characterizing homosexuality as sinful
"Start with homosexual behavior and just morph from there,"
Robertson, 67, said when asked what is sinful. "Bestiality,
sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman
and those men."
A&E, a joint venture of privately held Hearst Corp and Walt
Disney Co, said it was disappointed after reading
Robertson's remarks, which it added were his personal views and
did not reflect those of the network.
"The network has placed Phil under hiatus from filming
indefinitely," it said in a statement.
A&E was not immediately available to comment beyond the
"Duck Dynasty," one of cable TV's top non-sports programs
that has turned its bearded stars into celebrities, has spawned
hundreds of merchandise items sold at retailers such as Target
and Wal-Mart, from sporting goods and apparel to
camouflage reclining furniture.
Reaction to Robertson's comments was swift from across the
political spectrum with gay rights group GLAAD condemning the
remarks while conservative politicians lined up to defend the
reality TV star.
"Phil's decision to push vile and extreme stereotypes is a
stain on A&E and his sponsors, who now need to reexamine their
ties to someone with such public disdain for LGBT people and
families," GLAAD said in a statement.
But those across the aisle, including former U.S. Republican
vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin and Louisiana Governor
Bobby Jindal, leapt to Robertson's defense saying he was a
victim of political correctness.
PAST CLASH OVER RELIGION
"Free speech is an endangered species: Those 'intolerants'
hatin' & taking on Duck Dynasty patriarch for voicing personal
opinion take on us all," tweeted Palin.
Jindal, also a Republican and possible 2016 U.S.
presidential candidate, criticized A&E's reaction and described
Robertson and his family, who turned their animal-call company
Duck Commander into a hunting industry leader, as "great
citizens of the State of Louisiana."
"The politically correct crowd is tolerant of all
viewpoints, except those they disagree with," Jindal said in a
It is also not the first time Robertson and the network have
clashed over religion. In April, Robertson said he had
confronted producers about editing out the word "Jesus" from
some of the prayers they say on the show.
Faith Driven Consumer, a group that connects Christian
shoppers with faith-compatible companies, also started a
petition drive to reinstate Robertson immediately.
"Simply put, Phil Robertson is being censored and punished
for quoting the Bible, and A&E's treatment of him is punitive
and highly discriminatory," said Chris Stone, the organization's
A&E's quick move to indefinitely suspend Robertson stands in
contrast to cable channels The Food Network and MSNBC, which
both waited days before parting with Southern food doyenne Paula
Deen and actor Alec Baldwin, respectively, after they both
admitted to using slurs.
Deen's food empire has crumbled in the wake of admitting to
using a racial epithet in the past, while Baldwin lost his talk
show program for directing a gay slur at a photographer.
It was unclear how "Duck Dynasty" would proceed without its
patriarch. It drew 11.8 million viewers in August for the debut
of its fourth season, a record for a cable nonfiction series,
according to A&E.
The show's fifth season is set to air on Jan. 15, 2014.