After being suspended from A&E’s reality show "Duck Dynasty" for making hateful comments about gays in a magazine interview, Phil Robertson is returning, the channel said Friday.
Robertson is the patriarch of a hillbilly Louisiana clan that’s become rich making duck calls, which are used by hunters to lure the wild fowls into the range of their firearms.
Last week, the A&E put Robertson on an indefinite "hiatus" because of his condemnatory and anatomically explicit comments about men having sex with men that appeared in a GQ magazine article. Robertson denounced gays as criminals and sinners, causing outrage from the LGBT watchdog group GLAAD and others.
Robertson also made remarks claiming that blacks were blissful in the Jim Crow South. According to Robertson’s revisionist history, African Americans found joy picking cotton and singing spirituals despite the poverty and harsh segregation they endured during that era, during which they were not allowed to vote and were frequently lynched.
A&E said it decided to drop Robertson from the show because it is part of a company whose core values are "centered around creativity, inclusion and mutual respect."
But A&E's move against Robertson loosened an avalanche of support from right-wing Christians and others, including notable gays such as writer Andrew Sullivan, who defended his freedom of speech. A petition calling for A&E to bring Robertson back reached 250,000 signatures and counting in about a week. The channel was threatened with a boycott.
A&E said it was bringing Robertson back after discussions with his family and "numerous advocacy groups." A&E said it intended to launch a national public service campaign "promoting unity, tolerance and acceptance among all people."
The GQ interview was not the first in which Robertson verbally bashed gay people. In a 2010 speech caught on video, Robertson said: “Women with women, men with men. They committed indecent acts with one another, and they received in themselves the due penalty for their perversions. They're full of murder, envy, strife, hatred. They are insolent, arrogant, God-haters. They are heartless, they are faithless, they are senseless, they are ruthless. They invent ways of doing evil."
Robertson's supporters included former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who complained that his free-speech rights were being trampled. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal complained of a double standard that allowed Miley Cyrus to twerk on TV but cost Robertson his job for expressing the anti-gay hatred that’s at the heart of fundamentalist Christianity.
While reiterating that Robertson's views are not those of the channel, A&E noted Friday that he has publicly said he would "never incite or encourage hate." The show itself is more than one man's views, it added.
"It resonates with a large audience because it is a show about family, a family that America has come to love. As you might have seen in many episodes, they come together to reflect and pray for unity, tolerance and forgiveness," A&E said.
Last week, the family said in a statement on its Duck Commander website that although Robertson's comments were coarse, "his beliefs are grounded" in the Bible and he "is a Godly man." They also said, "as a family, we cannot imagine the show going forward without our patriarch at the helm."
"Duck Dynasty" is on hiatus until Jan. 15, and the network has said that nine of next season's 10 episodes have already been filmed. That means Robertson likely wasn't needed in front of the camera before next March.