Every morning during second period, the school announcements start with the Pledge of Allegiance. I stand, but do not recite it or place my hand over my heart. When I go to an event that my students participate in and they play the National Anthem beforehand, I stand, but I do not sing along or place my hand over my heart. In class, I think my students stand, but I keep my back to them so if one decided to stay seated or not place their hand over their heart, I would not know. At games, I’m not looking at who is doing what because, frankly, I don’t care.
Ever since Colin Kaepernick started his ‘protest’ by kneeling during the National Anthem before 49ers’ games, a post about this topic has been percolating. But, even more than my posts about gun control or capital punishment or voting for Hillary, this one might bring some backlash. But writing is what I do when something gets stuck in my craw, so here it is.
Close friends of mine are probably not surprised by my actions during the Pledge or the Anthem. They know I’m not the most patriotic of people. To me, placing my hand over my heart is a level of commitment to this country that I am just not comfortable making. Not placing my hand over my heart, to me, is simply stating a desire that, as great as our country might be (with the implication that it doesn’t need to be made great again…), there is always room for improvement. That does not mean I do not appreciate the freedoms we have and it does not mean that I do not respect those that have served, and are currently serving, in our military. But those freedoms, indeed the ones contained in the First Amendment, include a freedom of expression.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances
It is important to note that it does not say we are allowed to make a law abridging the freedom of speech we find inconvenient, or that we should only respect a religion the majority of Americans adhere to, or that the freedom of the press only applies to national news channels or some nebulous mainstream media. When the Founding Fathers were forming our Union, they were trying to avoid having a government that subdued free thought or was fearful of open discourse. It is my sincere hope that any soldier that takes the oath to defend for our country fights is doing so for those same reasons. Is our democracy so fragile that it cannot withstand a dude that chooses to not stand up during a song? I think not. Does Kaepernick’s action somehow demean the military service of your family members or my former students or anyone else? Certainly not.
I do not agree with the Ku Klux Klan or the Westboro Baptist Church, but I do agree with their right to assemble and express their views (before you go apeshit, as if you haven’t already, please keep reading). Many people have an issue with the LGBT community, but I hope those same people accept their right to have a parade or otherwise express their solidarity. While I do not feel the need to burn an American flag, if an individual feels strongly enough to do so as a form of making a statement , I believe that is their right to do so. It is physically impossible to set fire to the ideal of freedom or democracy…it’s a piece of cloth, sometimes not even made in the US. Nearly four million dollars worth of flags – nearly 10% of yearly sales – are imported each year, the majority of which come from China. And that is just actual flags. Who knows how many pieces of clothing, or pins or whatever that have a representation of the flag on them are imported. 1
Are their limits to free speech that have been adjudicated? Of course. Knowingly false statements can be subject to liability. Child pornography is clearly not a protected form of expression. Certain kinds of inciting speech are not protected. (The latter brings at least some of what the KKK, WBC, countless other fringe groups and a certain presidential candidate says into question, but I digress.) In general, we don’t get to pick and choose what sentiments or actions are out there. We can, however, choose to agree or disagree with those actions.
I will not comment on Kaepernick’s motive for kneeling during the Anthem, since I’m not in his head. Nor will I comment on the companies that have withdrawn endorsements of him based on his decision to do so. He is making his choice, and those companies are making their choices. I hope that the 49ers do not cut him based on that, but, as a privately held company, that is also their prerogative. However, that line gets blurred when a public high school or college coach (or teacher) forces a student to stand. The teacher/coach is welcome to disagree with the action, but, as a public entity and thus under a governmental umbrella, there can be no repercussions.
It is wildly important that we never legislate some requirement to stand during a song. To do so leads down a slippery slope of controlling thought and impeding the freedoms that a countless many have fought for over the last two-plus centuries. If you don’t agree with Kaepernick’s kneeling during the Anthem, don’t buy his jersey and don’t go to a 49ers game. If enough people do that, maybe the organization will make a change based solely on the financial implications. Or, state your displeasure on social media, because we all know what a difference that can make. (And, yes, I realize the irony of that statement by posting a link to this post on said social media so you can spare me that nugget of wisdom.) You don’t like that I do not put my hand over my heart during the Pledge? Feel free to tell me so or unfriend/unfollow me or tell me that if I don’t like this country then I should leave it. (For the public record, if I wake up on Wednesday November 9 and a certain someone has been elected President, I may do just that.) Or you can just re-read this post.
I am glad to be an American citizen. If a student of mine tells me he/she is considering enlisting in the military after high school, I try to help them with the process and give them information to be successful on the ASVAB. I’m not sure there is anything more honorable than committing to defend the freedoms for all of us, standing, kneeling or otherwise.