On Fox News, an Orthodox rabbi condemned the stars of A&E's Duck Dynasty for conflating anti-gay bigotry with religion, stating that “gay bashing is not religion.” His comments made for an awkward moment on Fox, a network that has repeatedly tried to use Christianity and religious belief as a blank check for blatant homophobia.
During the February 4 edition of Fox's The Real Story, host Gretchen Carlson asked her “faith panel” to discuss a new church curriculum to be released by the family from A&E's Duck Dynasty, which was recently embroiled in controversy over homophobic comments made by patriarch Phil Robertson.
Instead of talking about the new Bible curriculum, Orthodox rabbi Shmuley Boteach criticized the Robertson family for having done “tremendous damage to religion” by conflating homophobia with religious belief:
BOTEACH: They've done tremendous damage to religion. We have to stop making religion in America about bashing gays. They have to just forswear that stupid comment about comparing homosexuality to bestiality. See, the problem in America is that we overlook all the heterosexual guys who are raping women 1 in 5 on the campus. We saw this terrible statistic that in Alaska-
BOTEACH: Bashing gays is not religion. What is religion is family dinners and combating the divorce rate.
No network more badly needs to heed Boteach's advice than Fox News, which regularly uses Christianity and religion to give anti-gay rhetoric a free pass. In the wake of the Duck Dynasty star's anti-gay comments, Fox News employees rushed to defend Robertson, describing his homophobia as "old fashioned traditional Christian sentiment and values." Fox News Radio reporter Todd Starnes called Robertson's critics “anti-Christian haters.”
Excusing anti-gay extremism as religious belief has been a favorite Fox pastime since before the Duck Dynasty controversy, though. The network has described some of the country's most notorious and extreme anti-gay hate groups as nothing more than Christian organizations. Fox regularly depicts non-discrimination efforts to protect LGBT people as attacks on faith and Christianity. Even when directly confronted with anti-gay hate speech used by religious conservatives, Fox prefers to label bigotry as nothing more than part of a “Christian world view.”
Rabbi Boteach is right to criticize the Duck Dynasty family for using religion to justify homophobia, but it's the anti-gay apologists at Fox News who've helped blur the line between sincere religious belief and toxic anti-gay rhetoric.