Fox News suggested HGTV ran afoul of the First Amendment when it canceled an upcoming reality show following reports of the hosts' extreme anti-gay and Islamophobic activism.
HGTV cancelled its forthcoming reality show Flip It Forward following revelations that the hosts, Jason and David Benham, had an extensive history of anti-gay, anti-choice, and anti-Muslim activism. Examples of the brothers' reported hate speech include David Benham likening the fight against gay marriage to that against Nazi Germany, and participation in protests against “homosexuality and its agenda that is attacking the nation.” Benham has publicly highlighted Leviticus' punishment of death for gay sex and protested in front of mosques shouting “Jesus Hates Muslims.”
After rushing to defend the brothers by claiming they were being punished for their Christian views, Fox News is now suggesting HGTV's decision to cancel the show violated the Benhams' First Amendment right to free speech.
On July 10, Fox News host Steve Doocy interviewed Jason and David Benham while an on-screen graphic declared they had been “fired for faith.” Doocy argued, “You were fired for having an opinion. I mean, there's this thing called the First Amendment where people are entitled to their opinion and their Christian beliefs as well.”
But the First Amendment does not protect individuals from being fired by private employers, as it does not limit the actions that private employers may take based on employees' speech. The First Amendment Center explained:
The First Amendment does not limit private employers. The Bill of Rights -- and the First Amendment -- limit only government actors, not private actors. This means that private employers can restrict employee speech in the workplace without running afoul of the First Amendment.
HGTV did not violate the First Amendment rights of the Benhams by dropping their show. As Columbia Law's Suzanne Goldberg pointed out in an interview with CNN, it was most likely a decision to protect the business' brand following widespread outcry against the Benhams' comments. Even David Benham told CNN that he does not hold a grudge against the network, telling Erin Burnett, “It was too much for them to bear and they had to make a business decision.”