By Eric Kelsey
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Cable network A&E said on Friday that Phil Robertson will be allowed to re-join his family in the hit reality show "Duck Dynasty," less than two weeks after the patriarch was suspended over anti-gay comments.
Robertson's remarks to GQ magazine and his subsequent suspension by A&E sparked a nationwide debate over tolerance and religion, with conservative politicians and fans saying that Robertson's beliefs were consistent with the Bible.
"As a global media content company, A&E Networks' core values are centered around creativity, inclusion and mutual respect," A&E said in a statement released late Friday.
"We believe it is a privilege for our brands to be invited into people's homes and we operate with a strong sense of integrity and deep commitment to these principles," added the network, a joint venture of Walt Disney Co. and privately held Hearst Corp.
"Duck Dynasty" ranks among the most-watched cable television programs and averages about 8 million viewers per episode. Its fifth season is slated to begin on January 15. The show's fourth season debuted in August to 11.8 million viewers, a record for a cable nonfiction series, according to the network.
By lifting Robertson's suspension after nine days, A&E assures that the 67-year-old will not miss production of the series' sixth season and staves off any mutiny by the remainder of the family.
Robertson, the leader of the backwater Louisiana clan on the reality show about hunting, fishing and domestic squabbles, was put on indefinite "hiatus" on December 18 by A&E for his remarks to GQ characterizing homosexuality as sinful behavior.
"Start with homosexual behavior and just morph from there," Robertson said when asked what is sinful. "Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men."
Although Robertson never apologized for his comments, his family did say they regretted his "coarse language," which included graphic descriptions of male and female anatomy.
A&E said at the time it was disappointed after reading Robertson's remarks, which it added were his personal views and did not reflect those of the network.
Robertson's suspension also elicited strong reaction from across the political spectrum, with conservative politicians defending Robertson as a victim of political correctness.
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal lent his support to Robertson and his family, who turned their animal-call company Duck Commander into a hunting industry leader and helped boost tourism to the state.
"The politically correct crowd is tolerant of all viewpoints, except those they disagree with," Jindal said in a statement last week.
Gay equality group GLAAD condemned Robertson's comments, saying he knows nothing about gay people.
"Phil's decision to push vile and extreme stereotypes is a stain on A&E and his sponsors, who now need to reexamine their ties to someone with such public disdain for LGBT people and families," GLAAD said in a statement at the time.
(Editing by Mary Milliken and Ken Wills)