Freedom of Speech
The past couple of days every time a news alert pops up on my phone my heart jumps a little. It feels likes one of our nation’s fundamental rights seems to be being challenged. While many people can agree that it may not have been an appropriate time, the NFL players were arguably within their first amendment rights.
Our first amendment states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” While there are many intricacies to this specific amendment, I would like to specifically focus on United States Citizen’s freedom of speech.
While the American Flag is the symbol of our nation and not giving it your full admiration can be argued to be disrespectful, but it is still within one’s legal rights to not stand for the National Anthem or say the Pledge of Allegiance.
In 1989, Texas vs. Johnson was brought to the attention of the United States Supreme Court. In this particular case, Gregory Lee Johnson was seen burning an American Flag in protest of policies that current president, Ronald Reagan, had enacted. This action caused Johnson to be charged with violating a Texas law that prohibited vandalizing respected objects such as the American Flag. He was convicted and sentenced to one year in prison as well as a $2,000 fine. After appealing to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, Johnson’s conviction was overturned. Texas proceeded to ask the United States Supreme Court to make a decision on the matter.
The Supreme Court heard the case and in 1989 handed down its decision. The Court came to a 5-4 decision favoring Johnson. As part of this decision, the Justices considered whether or not the First Amendment covered expressive acts not related to speech. The Court established that Freedom of Speech also recognizes that its coverage does not end at spoken or written word. The Supreme Court concluded that, while “the government generally has a freer hand in restricting expressive conduct than it has in restricting the written or spoken word,” it may not “proscribe particular conduct because it has expressive elements.” (Wikipedia.org)
While kneeling during the National Anthem may not have been appropriate while “working,” it is still within those players’ legal rights to make such a gesture.
This particular news story plagued my iPhone on Sunday, but I noticed a lack of coverage that Puerto Rico has received since being devastated by Hurricane Maria. This is what I have found to be the most disheartening. Puerto Rico is a United States Territory, so as Americans, we have a responsibility towards humanitarian relief. I’m saddened by other news outlets that have prioritized sports over humanity. While kneeling is within our fundamental rights, so is life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness which one of our own territories is currently struggling with.