12/27/2013 11:02 am ET Updated Feb 26, 2014

Christian Tolerance: American Evangelists and the Right of Free Speech

America has just finished celebrating Christmas. For most, it was a chance to get together with family and friends, a religious holiday for some, and for others just a welcomed day or two off work.

Whether you say "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays," it's the same thing every year: One way or the other, all Americans "celebrate" the holiday because the United States has always been, and will continue to be, a Christian nation.

What made this holiday season a bit unusual was the contentious debate over the suspension by A&E Network of Duck Dynasty's Phil Robertson from his hit reality show. Robertson made controversial remarks in a GQ magazine profile of the Robertson family.

He cited his Christian beliefs that are often highlighted on the show. He said homosexual behavior and bestiality are sinful behavior and claimed black people were happy in the "pre-entitlement, pre-welfare" days of the Jim Crow South.

Holy Christmas!

The uncivil "discussion" that ensued from LGBT advocates, the Christian far right, libertarians, and free-speech advocates certainly was not in the Christmas spirit. The often nasty debate illustrates nothing more than a very unchristian lack of respect and tolerance for non-believers in American culture.

In 2013, we have reached a point in our national dialogue where basically anyone who knows how to tweet can sound off without discretion.

Sadly, individuals like Robertson, once nobodies and certainly nothing more than reality-show celebrities, now take center stage in American life.

But the assault on Robertson reveals a concerted effort by some to erase Christianity from our mores, history and political philosophy and laws. Despite such efforts, the United States is still a Christian country.

A recent Pew Center study found that more than 78 percent of Americans practice some form of Christianity.

But that same study found that the significance of Christianity in American life is decreasing.

"The survey finds that the number of people who say they are unaffiliated with any particular faith today (16.1%) is more than double the number who say they were not affiliated with any particular religion as children. Among Americans ages 18-29, one-in-four say they are not currently affiliated with any particular religion," the report said.

In terms of celebrating Christmas, it's much the same.

"Younger adults are less likely than older adults to see Christmas a religious rather than cultural holiday, they're less likely to say they will attend Christmas services and they are less likely to believe in the virgin birth," said Greg Smith, director of U.S. religion surveys at the Pew Research Center's Religion and Public Life Project.

And that is what is probably scaring the hell out of guys like Robertson and other religious zealots.

Robertson's words are protected by the First Amendment. But his cluelessness about the repercussions of such speech demonstrates a lack of moral responsibility and, some would say, is an abuse of that right to free speech.

Yes, Americans will continue to celebrate Christmas for generations to come. But Christians like Robertson need to keep their religious rhetoric within the walls of the Church and home.

Robertson's words belong in a sermon, not in a men's fashion magazine that caters in part to gay readers.

And instead of decrying alternative lifestyles, Robertson would be much more responsible talking about how to get more Christians back into church, particularly on Christmas when Americans who choose to attend can get their spiritual compasses readjusted.

Words can inflict pain. There's a responsibility attached to the right of free speech in our Christian nation to respect others and their alternative lifestyles.

This post originally appeared in "Florida Context" on December 26, 2013.