Thursday, December 12, 2019
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On protesting the national anthem & Pledge

The New York Times ran a story at the end of October about two high school students from the Houston area who are suing their school districts, claiming they were mistreated because they refused to stand during the Pledge of Allegiance. We have held off on commenting until today, Veterans Day.

Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia (stbaus7 / iStock)

Both girls are 17 and are represented in separate lawsuits against two different school districts by Randall Kallinen, a civil rights lawyer in Houston. They have been protesting the Pledge of Allegiance for several years, long before Donald Trump became the president.

“We live in a country where there isn’t justice and freedom for all, and so I’m not going to stand for a pledge that says there is,” one student, named only by the initials M.O. in the lawsuit, was quoted as saying at a news conference.

That pretty much sums up the reason behind these protests: No longer is a refusal to stand for the Pledge about the “under God” clause but about the “liberty and justice for all” clause. No longer is a protest during the national anthem about going to war but about slavery and its modern-day remnant: the abuse of blacks by some individual police officers.


I have never thought protesting during the national anthem was effective. It started in the NFL but certainly has become part of the high school sports landscape across America at this point.

The reasons behind the protest have been clearly stated, and the protests themselves have raised awareness about the problem of police on power trips. I’m just not sure it has an end. In other words, what has to happen in order to make it stop, for the protests to come to an end?

For example, if someone is protesting Donald Trump being president, there’s an end in sight, since presidents can serve a maximum of eight years. But if protesters think police brutality will end, they’ve got a long time to wait. We can systemically stamp out racial profiling, but what is the threshold when even that systemic stamping out will be enough? We can also make murder illegal, by the way, under our laws, but there is still murder.

And the reason is that there are evil people in our midst. They can be found in every walk of life, in every profession. Heck, we’ve still got school teachers abusing 14-year-old boys and girls! There’s no protest going on about teachers abusing students, however, because the problem has been eliminated from the system through the passage of sex abuse laws across the country and through the professional training of doctors, counselors, teachers, principals, and others who participate in students’ lives. They’ve been trained to look for the signs.

But racial profiling, along with differential treatment of individual citizens based on their race, while just as wrong as teachers abusing students, has brought protests.

That makes me ask, What will it take for the protests to end?

I suppose the bottom line for me is that people aren’t perfect. Police officers have some bad apples among them, just as teachers do.

Here’s another way to look at it: We can’t say that global warming caused Hurricane Harvey or any other single weather event, but we all recognize the increasing strength and number of severe storms and heavy precipitation events since the Industrial Revolution. We can’t say for sure that Mark McGuire wouldn’t have hit all those home runs if he didn’t use steroids, but we all recognize his body’s different characteristics.

Although we can’t say racial profiling resulted in the death of any one black teenager at the hands of a police officer, we can pass laws to ensure that police officers are trained well. And I hope we have started to put some of those laws in place. Maybe we need more, but how many? If the expectation is that police will be perfect, though, and none of them will do anything illegal—if we’re holding out for that sort of end game—we’ll waste our lives protesting in vain.

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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