Make a stand and take a knee for the First Amendment

By Kourtney Husnick

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With our president openly dismissing our First Amendment rights, it is time for a reminder that the use of our freedoms does not require us to fulfill anyone else’s concept of respect. Stand, kneel, sit, walk away with your back turned or place your hand on your heart. It is the decision of the individual alone. The national anthem does not come with a mandatory code of conduct for American citizens.

President Donald Trump is persisting in his criticism of athletes in the NFL for kneeling during the national anthem. This method of peaceful protest has been scrutinized for being disrespectful to our flag and to our country. It has been discussed as though people should be required to stand and show this specific idea of respect, but respect is not a citizen’s obligation. It is not a requirement. It cannot be demanded. It cannot be forced.

Protesting is often not respectful. It often causes disruption and aims to make people uncomfortable. That is how peaceful protests bring about discussions and change. Chanting racial slurs, shouting threats and inciting violence in Charlottesville was not respectful, yet it has received a smaller backlash. The use of Nazi symbols and the Confederate flag — both representing groups who actively fought against our country —cannot be deemed as an acceptable First Amendment right while kneeling causes widespread outrage.

There is no greater respect for our country than to peacefully utilize our fundamental rights in order to make conditions in America better. There is a problem when people must fear for their lives at a traffic stop simply because the color of their skin is perceived as a threat. That should be protested as often and as publicly as possible. Colin Kaepernick began protesting black oppression by sitting on the bench during the national anthem, and he decided later to kneel in order to show more respect in his protest.

Celebrities and athletes are told constantly that they are not supposed to get political, but it is the duty of every person with privilege to use their influence for the benefit of the disenfranchised and the silenced. If Kaepernick and the athletes who have knelt in solidarity with him make people angry, their point is only strengthened. Burning NFL merchandise and boycotting the games because people are utilizing the rights this country provides is proof enough that the issue is not a matter of patriotism. If you don’t stand for the national anthem in your living room or the sports bars you frequent for games, your problem is not with disrespecting the flag.

Disrespect is saying Puerto Rico is not doing enough to help themselves in the aftermath of natural disaster. Disrespect is responding to the increase of excessive force from police by giving them greater access to military style equipment. Disrespect is serving as a politician and insisting that one of our most important freedoms listed in the Bill of Rights should not be utilized in a prominent public view.

Kneeling for the national anthem is a right that should be protected and acknowledged as an important part of our freedom. Attempting to deny anyone that right is the exact opposite of what this country is supposed to be about. Censoring a peaceful protest is the first step toward censorship for the media and free speech. It is our responsibility to bring injustice into the light. It is not just unacceptable, but unconstitutional to infringe upon that right.

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