President Trump says taking a knee during the national anthem is wrong and unpatriotic. Colin Kaepernick says taking a knee during the national anthem is right and patriotic. Some fans think it’s a sign of disrespect to American troops, some fans think that American troops fought for players to have the right to take a knee. Liberal politicians think the American constitution gives players the right to take a knee. Conservative politicians think the American constitution gives the NFL team owners the right to stop the players from taking a knee. Believe it or not this is a rare instance where everybody is right, nobody is wrong.
President Trump and Colin Kaepernick have become focal points in a controversy where the opinions of fans, athletes, former athletes, sports commentators and politicians basically come down to freedom of speech versus respect for one’s country. This argument and all the other varied opinions reflect the beauty and greatness of America.
Before you can have freedom of speech and expression you must have freedom of thought. Without freedom of thought, the First Amendment right to freedom of speech is moot, because you can only express what you can think. Constraining or censoring how a person thinks (cognitive censorship) is the most fundamental kind of censorship, and is contrary to some of our most cherished constitutional principles. The Supreme Court in its Palko v. Connecticut decision stated “Freedom of thought… is the matrix, the indispensable condition, of nearly every other form of freedom. With rare aberrations a pervasive recognition of this truth can be traced in our history, political and legal”
This means everyone who has an opinion about whether to take a knee during the national anthem, who it does or does not offend, if the league should or should not allow it, if the athletes have the right of protest, if they take a knee does it show disrespect for the country they are blessed to make millions of dollars in, and do owners have the right to fire any players who take a knee, are all valid.
Because in America thanks to the First Amendment we all have the freedom of thought and opinion. President Trump is certainly entitled to believe that players should stand during the anthem but he crossed the line by suggesting that owners should fire players if they don’t stand. If players could lose their job by exercising their constitutional rights it renders those rights useless.
The First Amendment gives American citizens the right to show respect or disrespect for the flag, national anthem or any other symbols of our government, President Abraham Lincoln summed it up best in his Gettysburg Address, “government of the people by the people for the people”. In other words none of these things including the government itself are more important than our freedom rights as citizens.
What the First Amendment does not give us a right to do is punish, physically attack or retaliate against someone for expressing an opposing viewpoint. We all must respect everyone’s right to their individual opinion and accept that in America the opinion of the majority holds sway.
What Colin Kaepernick started and President Trump breathed life into was another example of American democracy at work, the free expression of rights and opinions. People within a 32 team league of various opinions, each team having differing opinions among themselves coming together and deciding as a team how to respond, and each team demonstrating their own responses. The fans and sports commentators all weighting in with their opinions.
The right of free expression appears to be alive and well in America, what appears to be in danger is our ability to accept someone’s equal right to express an opposing opinion. We must all respect everyone’s right of free thought even when we don’t agree with the thought. The only acceptable way to combat opposing thought is through reason, persuasion and logic not censorship. After all nothing in life is accomplished, no goal is attained and no life is saved without their first being a THOUGHT!!!
Isaac Newton Farris Jr. is the nephew of Martin Luther King, Jr. and serves as Senior Fellow at the King Center. Growing up in one of the most socially and politically active families has given him a unique perspective into current events. Drop by his blog for straight talk free of one-sided political spin.