Freedom of Speech is a Right Until Someone Disagrees with It

ColinKaepernick

WRITER’S NOTE:  Been awhile, hasn’t it?

Rather than trying to recap what has happened in the world over the last month (to give you a reason for the lack of material, real life invaded on essays – and moving from North Carolina to Florida had a huge impact itself), we’re going to pick up with the latest discussion du jour. Trust me, there’s going to be more concentrated efforts here over the next few months, especially with the Presidential Election on the horizon!

We’re only two weeks away from the start of the National Football League season and, to be honest, it seems as if they are in midseason form in many areas. Complaints about the officiating, season-ending injuries, suspensions for drugs and/or wife beating have been handed out and controversies over who should be playing are already raging and we have only seen each team play two meaningless preseason games. One instance, however, seems to have stepped beyond the bounds of the gridiron and into the public consciousness.

At the start of their game with the Denver Broncos on Friday night, virtually all of the San Francisco 49ers team stood at attention on the sidelines as the National Anthem was played. After the ceremony of the performance and the start of the game, it was noted by television commentators that 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick was conspicuously missing from the team lineup, instead sitting on the bench behind his teammates as the National Anthem played. What may have been an insignificant occurrence instead became the latest in media-driven hyperbole and faux patriotism.

Following the game, Kaepernick responded to questions about why he didn’t stand for the National Anthem. “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick stated, apparently in reference to many of the incidences regarding black people and their killing by law enforcement officers, among other things. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

Kaepernick didn’t hold back from those sentiments after some thought. On Sunday, as a vortex of controversy swirled in the air, Kaepernick doubled down by saying, “I’ll continue to sit. … I’m going to continue to stand with the people that are being oppressed. To me, this is something that has to change, and when there’s significant change — and I feel like that flag represents what it’s supposed to represent, and this country is representing people the way it’s supposed to — I’ll stand.”

KaepernickJersey

Needless to say, this incited a boisterous outpouring of condemnation for Kaepernick, including fans of the 49ers burning his jersey, political pundits blustering that he should give up his job and leave the country and others who blasted him for his political stance. A much smaller segment of the population recognized the reasoning that Kaepernick was using but thought he could have done something other than not stand for the Anthem (for the record, Kaepernick said the protest was in no way a reflection on the military men and women who defend the country). An even more microscopic group agreed with Kaepernick, at their own risks.

First off, let’s look at the rules. There is NOTHING that states the athletes have to stand for the National Anthem. This is the path that officials for the 49ers took, issuing an official statement of support for Kaepernick but stating, “The National Anthem is and always will be a special part of the pre-game ceremony…In respecting such American principles as freedom of religion and freedom of expression, we recognize the right of an individual to choose to participate, or not, in our celebration of the National Anthem.” The NFL echoed the 49ers brass, with spokesman Brian McCarthy saying, “Players are encouraged but not required to stand during the playing of the National Anthem.”

Secondly, it isn’t the first time such a situation has occurred. Former National Basketball Association guard Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf (born Chris Jackson) refused to stand for the National Anthem during a game in 1996 because of his religious beliefs. This resulted in a one-game ban by then-NBA President David Stern that was quickly rescinded because of Abdul-Rauf’s religious convictions (the two parties eventually negotiated a deal where Abdul-Rauf would recite Islamic prayers yet stand with his teammates for the National Anthem).

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It seems that the problems arise when people – some who would normally be the staunchest defenders of the “freedom of speech” – forget that this caveat of the First Amendment also applies to things to which you don’t agree. Everything is good for people when they are supportive of the messages put into the ethosphere, but when something is stated that violates the bubble that people have put around themselves, then they begin to deride someone’s “freedom of speech” to the point of having it taken away. Many have stated that Kaepernick should be forced to stand for the National Anthem, depriving him of his First Amendment rights.

As a Marine veteran, we are sworn in on an oath to defend the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. This oath also includes defending discussion that you don’t necessarily believe in, such as the statement that Mexicans are rapists or throwing a party for Martin Luther King Day that is questionable in nature. It is only through the respect of all speech, including that type of speech that you find objectionable, that the freedom of the First Amendment – and, by extension, the Bill of Rights and the Constitution – are truly exercised.

This seems to be lost on most, however. Some cite their service or that of another family member and view it as an affront (if they truly considered that oath that I spoke of earlier, they’d know they were wrong). Some cite that, by saying Kaepernick was wrong and being criticized for it, THEY are being silenced are also out of line…you can make your statement, but you also have to respect the rights of Kaepernick to his stance and not state that HE should be silenced. The rights granted by government cover a wide range of issues, including flag burning and having a Nazi rally march through a Polish neighborhood, and are not limited to just what is pleasant in your mind.

Kaepernick has made his statement and he is the one who has to stand with it and defend it. Whether you agree with him or not, you have to respect his right to be able to make the statement. Once you start to abbreviate or censor a form of thought, then that First Amendment begins to shrink, something that no one should desire.

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