Evanston & Oak Park kneel for the anthem

The football team and marching band at Oak Park-River Forest High School and the girls’ volleyball team at Evanston Township High School, both in suburban Chicago, took a knee during the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner at their games last week, the Chicago Tribune reports (OP-RF; Evanston Twp).


Bake sale for the Oak Park-River Forest band, 2013 (Ann Fisher / Flickr CC)

The Tribune also reported that the football team and marching band at New Trier High School in north suburban Winnetka followed suit, after the protest by the girls’ volleyball team at Evanston Township sparked a conversation at neighboring schools.

“That helped us start the conversation with all our teams and coaches about the ongoing actions during anthems, particularly at sporting events,” the paper quoted Nicole Dizon, director of communications for New Trier, as saying. “Our athletic director talked to all our fall sports coaches and the coaches talked to the teams. The main theme is this is an individual decision and we respect anyone’s individual decision on this action and we should also respect one another, our teammates and the other teams and what they decide to do.”

Editorial

Although President Donald Trump decided to make a comment about these protests during NFL football games, his opposition to this speech, fully protected by the Constitution, has encouraged a surge of similar protests in high schools across America. And not all the high schools have been as encouraging of this form of free speech as New Trier and Evanston have.

The Supreme Court of the United States, in the case known as Tinker v Des Moines Independent Community School District, handed down a ruling that prohibits schools from punishing students who engage in peaceful protests at public, government-supported schools.

Students who take a knee during the playing of the national anthem are not protesting against America, as Mr Trump has suggested: Protests are about as American as it gets.

Rather, they are joining NFL teams, sparked by an initial protest last year led by Colin Kaepernick, in protesting police treatment of blacks. It is true that every police officer who has ever killed a black man was wearing an American flag, but Mr Trump’s suggestion that people have fought and died for that flag or the national anthem is a complete misdirection. People fought and died for the freedom that flag represents, for the right of these students to protest.

Let me put it in perspective. Consider this tweet:

News reports suggest this man was instigating fights with African-American bus riders in Seattle. In other words, he was not behaving in a non-violent manner. He allegedly got punched in the face, but it may not have been because he was showing his support for Nazis. That armband is protected speech, whereas inciting violence isn’t.

The questions remain: Would you punch him if you saw him? Would it be worth it?

Free speech means standing up for the rights of people to express viewpoints with which you may not agree. It does not give people the right to pick a fight. And when Mr Trump takes sides as he did—here against the NFL—it may be akin to picking a fight, since the bully pulpit of the presidency comes with a loud megaphone.

Please don’t give in to the tendency of people to pick a fight. Allow free speech wherever it is found, but remain peaceful, and don’t incite others to violence. That just gives haters an excuse and justifies their violence, even if it only works inside their own minds.

About the Author

Paul Katula

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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