Home > Uncategorized > “Take a Knee” Controversy Revisited… And Our “Culture of Liberty” Takes a Hit

“Take a Knee” Controversy Revisited… And Our “Culture of Liberty” Takes a Hit

May 29, 2018

Last week the NFL owners announced a new rule: players would either stand during the national anthem or remain in the locker room when the anthem was played. Those teams who failed to do would be subject to fines. In announcing this new policy, the league hoped to end the controversy over the political protests that emerged over the past two years, whereby players knelt on the sidelines to show their support for minorities who were profiled by police and, in many well-publicized incidents, lost their lives in confrontations that resulted from the profiling. The force of the protests had fizzled by the end of the 2016 season, but took on new life when the President of the United States called attention to the issue in 2017. Throughout the 2017 season different teams handled the matter in different ways and many fans viewed the protests and the specific players who participated as “unpatriotic”. Predictably, the protests at the professional level had an impact at ALL levels of athletics, including at high schools where students picked up the ideas.

In earlier posts I’ve advanced the argument that the protests should be supported like ALL free speech should be supported. I was heartened to see that at least one libertarian conservative writer, David French of the National Review, took a similar stance in a NYTimes op ed piece last week. In the essay, Mr. French noted that his conservative colleagues rightfully called out the liberals who were squelching free speech on campuses, in corporations, and in the public forum. He wondered how these same writers and pundits could turn around and support the efforts to squelch the free speech of African American athletes in the name of finding a “middle ground” on the issue of kneeling during the national anthem:

This isn’t a “middle ground,” as the N.F.L. claims. It’s not a compromise. It’s corporate censorship backed up with a promise of corporate punishment. It’s every bit as oppressive as the campus or corporate attacks on expression that conservatives rightly decry.

But this is different, they say. This isn’t about politics. It’s about the flag.

I agree. It is different. Because it’s about the flag, the censorship is even worse.

One of the most compelling expressions of America’s constitutional values is contained in Justice Robert Jackson’s 1943 majority opinion in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette. At the height of World War II, two sisters, both Jehovah’s Witnesses, challenged the state’s mandate that they salute the flag in school. America was locked in a struggle for its very existence. The outcome was in doubt. National unity was essential.

But even in the darkest days of war, the court wrote liberating words that echo in legal history: “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.”

In our polarized times, I’ve adopted a simple standard, a civil liberties corollary to the golden rule: Fight for the rights of others that you would like to exercise yourself. Do you want corporations obliterating speech the state can’t touch? Do you want the price of participation in public debate to include the fear of lost livelihoods? Then, by all means, support the N.F.L. Cheer Silicon Valley’s terminations. Join the boycotts and shame campaigns. Watch this country’s culture of liberty wither in front of your eyes.

As noted in countless other posts on this blog, I despair at how our schools are now training children to live under a totalitarian regime in the name of retaining the “rights” of gun advocates to purchase whatever weapons they wish to possess. I would hope that those who seek the liberty to own whatever weapons they desire would support those who seek the liberty to speak their minds openly about racism.

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