The saga of the NFL players kneeling during the national anthem continues to roil the nation and there is a lot of misinformation that needs to be clarified.
First, I believe that we should stand for the anthem and for the pledge, but my beliefs and opinions are irrelevant.
As a teacher in Fayette County, I was annoyed that I could not require students to stand or recite either the Pledge of Allegiance or sing the anthem. In 1943, the United States Supreme Court ruled in the case of West Virginia Board of Education vs Barnette that the state cannot require students to stand or say the pledge or sing the anthem. Teachers have been fired for trying to force students to stand during the pledge or anthem.
Furthermore, as distasteful as it may be, flag burning as protest is protected under the ruling handed down in 1990 in United States vs Eichman.
For all the sturm und drang generated in conversations in society, the opinions of American citizens on the topic are moot. The only opinion that matters is that of the Supreme Court and its rulings become black-letter law. We can disagree with their rulings as loudly as we want, but only a subsequent court ruling can reverse their decisions.
On the other hand, our nation guarantees that Americans have the right to peaceful protest. Some religions, notably Jehovah’s Witnesses, refuse to stand for the anthem or the pledge and their choice is protected by the freedom of religion clause of the First Amendment.
Former NFL player Colin Kaepernick chose to kneel during the national anthem to protest the unfair treatment of African-Americans in the justice and legal systems. The irony is that Nate Boyer, a veteran Green Beret who served in the Army in Afghanistan and Iraq, is the man who suggested that Kaepernick kneel during the anthem instead of passively sitting on the bench.
When asked about his decision, Kaepernick said: “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
Nor does Kaepernick hate the military. In fact, hundreds of military veterans have supported his right to kneel in protest. When asked about his opinion of the military, Kaepernick has said explicitly: “I have great respect for the men and women who have fought for this country. I have family, I have friends who have gone and fought for this country. This country isn’t holding up their end of the bargain … men and women who have been in the military have come back and been treated unjustly, and have been murdered by the country they fought for, on our land. That’s not right.”
But if people are offended by the NFL players kneeling, why are they not equally incensed when profane, angry drunks remain seated during the anthem? How about all the people laughing and yelling obscenities while waiting in line to buy concessions? How are their actions more respectful than kneeling?
The situations described above are pertinent with respect to governmental agencies and functions, but different rules apply to private businesses. The NFL is privately owned and the decision to require player participation in the anthem may be protected under the law. We must wait for the courts to rule.
In short, Kaepernick has always said that he is protesting the well-documented racial disparities in the punishments meted out by the courts.
If you do not agree with his actions, the constitution grants you the same right of protest you are trying to deny him. Does that sound like “one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all?”
Roger Guffey of Lexington is a math professor. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.