An American television network has reversed its decision to suspend one of the stars of its popular Duck Dynasty reality show despite his controversial comments about gay immorality.
A&E said yesterday that Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson will return to work, after it held discussions with his Louisiana family featured in the hit series and "numerous advocacy groups".
Last week, the channel had put Robertson on what it called an indefinite "hiatus" because of his comments in a GQ magazine article that the Bible views gays as sinners akin to adulterers, prostitutes and swindlers.
A&E said it decided to drop him from the show about a wealthy family that makes duck calls because it is part of a company whose core values are "centred around creativity, inclusion and mutual respect".
But yesterday, w hile reiterating that Robertson's views are not those of the channel, A&E noted 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.
The Robertson family said it had no immediate comment.
Robertson's remarks in GQ were slammed by groups including GLAAD, the gay rights watchdog organisation, which did not comment yesterday.
But A&E's move against him provoked a flood of support from those who share his views and others who defended his freedom of speech.
Within a day, more than a half-million people liked a Facebook page demanding A&E be boycotted until he returns. A petition calling for A&E to bring him back reached 250,000 signatures and counting in about a week.
Duck Dynasty is the channel's highest-rated programme and set a reality show record for cable with nearly 12 million viewers for its fourth-season debut this past summer.
Robertson's supporters included former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, who complained that his free-speech rights were being trampled.
Last week, the Robertson family said that although some of Phil Robertson's comments were coarse, "his beliefs are grounded" in the Bible and he "is a Godly man".
They also said that "as a family, we cannot imagine the show going forward without our patriarch at the helm".