Monday, November 11, 2019
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Ames band members walk off during national anthem

Fox News is reporting that several marching band members walked off the field during the playing of the national anthem before a football game Friday night at Ames High School in Iowa.

Embed from Getty Images

“First, the school district must deal swiftly to put down this anti-American uprising within the marching band,” writes Todd Starnes on his own personal site, which is separate from that of Fox News. “Those students who chose not to play and those who marched off the field should be immediately removed from the roster.”

Speaking for the school district, officials posted a statement on Twitter, suggesting they had no intention of punishing the protesting students in any way. Even though the national anthem protest isn’t specifically mentioned, what is addressed—and what gives us an understanding of the school environment at Ames—is the respect the school has for student voices:

The Pink Out theme, referred to in the tweet above, was a decision not to wear USA-themed clothing to the game but pink clothes instead. That created a little discussion on Twitter on its own about whether it was un-American.

Based on some of the comments posted in response to that tweet, which, I have to remind you, might come from hackers trying to stir divisiveness in America, the reaction of some spectators at the game, critical of students, is in line with that of Mr Starnes.

The Des Moines Register corroborated the report independently, including video of the performance, citing a student who said Principal Spence Evans had told students he didn’t want them kneeling during the playing of the “Star-Spangled Banner.” For this student, at least, the activity wasn’t anti-American at all.

“How can we be unified if there’s racism, sexism and homophobia in our school?” one student asked. “I had a lot of second thoughts on it, but I thought I was going to regret it more if I didn’t do something.”

From another student: “We wanted to make this a movement, not a trend. It was for taking a stand against racial prejudice.”

About a dozen students who walked off the field faced vocal criticism from spectators at the football game, the Register reported. In addition to those who walked off the field, several band members reportedly refused to play their instruments for the national anthem.

Editorial (Oct. 16 update)

All speech, especially on controversial topics, brings consequences. A few students in the marching band at Ames will have to live with those consequences, including the scorn of high school football fans.

But for the school to punish free expression in students, even if some including Mr Starnes of Fox News consider it un-American, would put the district and students in the messy middle of a First Amendment battle. Citizens, including marching band students, have not only a right of free speech but also of petitioning their government. Protests are about as pro-America as it gets.

Schools have more important lessons to teach, and by conducting open discussion forums with student voices well represented, that appears to be what educators at Ames are doing. They do this despite calls from members of the disinterested public about how to handle the situation.

Urbandale H.S. band from Iowa, 2008, before any of this happened (Richard Swearinger/Flickr CC)
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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