I had not seen My Friend the Rotarian in more than 20 years — not since our Wabash club days.
He rushed toward me as I stood in line at a fast-food restaurant.
“Hey, I’m glad to see you!” he exclaimed.
“Same here,” I replied.
As he stood beside me, I noticed he was carrying a cloth bag.
Back in the day, we’d sit together at meetings. Before the program began, as we ate lunch, he’d solicit my thoughts, mistakenly thinking I was some kind of guru.
“Should Phil Robertson have said what he said?” he asked in his direct style.
I reached the counter and ordered the $2 cold cut combo special.
Ignoring the people behind me in line, he ordered the pastrami and Swiss.
“Sorry,” I said, looking back at the people.
An older woman nodded; a middle-age guy scowled; a young woman chattering on her cellphone had no clue.
We found a table, and as we unwrapped our sandwiches, he asked, “You know who Robertson is, don’t you?”
“Yeah, the guy on 'Duck Dynasty.'”
“So should he have spoken out?”
“He has that right,” I said before taking my first bite.
“So you agree with him?”
“I didn’t say that.”
“So what are you saying?”
“What I have been saying my entire life, which is that we have the right in this country to speak our minds — thanks to the First Amendment.”
He finished chewing, said, “Well, yeah, but he said homosexuality is a sin comparable to bestiality.”
“Yeah, I know,” I said.
He reached into his cloth bag and pulled out an iPad. In seconds, he had Robertson’s remarks on the screen.
I glanced at his pastrami, wondered whether I should have ordered it, too.
Then he read a controversial quote, which appeared in an interview in GQ magazine.
The quote, which has graphic language, involved a sexual act. It ends with Robertson referring to the act, saying, “But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical.’”
I drank some water, then said, “Yeah, I saw that.”
“You’re buying that?”
“I’m not going there while I’m having my lunch,” I said. “But, again, Robertson has a right to say what he believes.”
My Friend the Rotarian nodded, said: “You told me once that in your mind, the First Amendment takes precedence unless the subject matter involves child pornography or something that endangers public safety. You said there were only rare exceptions. Remember?”
"Should A&E have suspended and then reinstated him?”
“First, let me say that I have never seen the show. The subject matter doesn’t interest me. But to answer your question, no, I don’t think A&E should have suspended him. It smacked of censorship. But that’s their right. It was a business decision. And so was reinstating him.”
My Friend the Rotarian lifted the top of the pastrami bun and squirted mustard on the meat. Then he said:
“Here’s what a spokesman for GLADD — you know, the gay and lesbian organization — said: ‘Phil and his family claim to be Christian, but Phil's lies about an entire community fly in the face of what true Christians believe. He clearly knows nothing about gay people or the majority of Louisianans — and Americans — who support legal recognition for loving and committed gay and lesbian couples. Phil's decision to push vile and extreme stereotypes is a stain on A&E and his sponsors who now need to re-examine their ties to someone with such public disdain for LGBT people and families.’
“You buyin’ that?”
“We could spend a few hours dissecting and debating his words. But, again ...”
“Yeah, I know, he has a right to say what he said.”
I finished my last bite, said, “When we silence the tongue, we inflict serious damage on ourselves. The right to express our beliefs is the core freedom we have in our country. We lose that, we lose all of our freedoms.”
“So should his followers boycott A&E?”
“That’s another one of our rights,” I replied as I got up from the table.
“Where you headed?”
“To a used book store to see about buying a rare copy of ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover.’”
Ray Moscowitz of Bloomington is a retired newspaper executive and former publisher of the Peru Tribune. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.