Do you know your rights? Do you? Now, sure, you could get your rights read aloud to you…for the small price of committing a felony. But you right now, the average, law abiding citizen, may not know what you have the right to do and not to do. For those folks out there who are not so sure, know that you are not alone. According to a First Amendment Center survey from 2014, about one third of the population of the United States are not aware of the rights that the First Amendment of the Constitution guarantees. And even if you are conscious of your rights and act accordingly, there still may be social consequences. All of these factors must be considered when discussing the recent actions taken by the San Francisco 49ers’ Quarterback, Colin Kaepernick. He has intentionally kneeled during the national anthem since the beginning of the 2016 NFL preseason as a means of political protest against the injustice towards people of color in America. Kaepernick feels morally obligated to use his media attention and celebrity to bring the issue to light.
Now the question is: does Kaepernick truly have the right to do this? Yes. The Bill of Rights grants him the freedom to express his beliefs. That does not mean that he is above the judgements of American citizens though. In fact, many have taken a stand against this type of political expression in the past and were brought the issue to the courts. This led to the Supreme Court case of West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette which now imbues Americans with the right to choose not to stand during the playing of the national anthem.
Now we get back to those social consequences. Many critics of Kaepernick believe that not only is he disgracing the country with his actions, but also those who bravely fight to keep the American flag standing. However, although American soldiers and veterans are vital to the country and undoubtedly deserving of respect, their duty to the flag should not define Kaepernick’s. He has explained on numerous occasions that his intentions are not anti-American and has even come to an agreement with veterans to take a knee during the anthem rather than sitting so as to show his respect. Some citizens of the United States still do not support him for utilizing his freedom in this manner, yet they enjoy their freedom of speech. How can they expect their rights, yet deny his? Is the football field less of a place to express opinions than any other? In my opinion, it is just the place to do so. Football is “the American sport.” The sidelines are an excellent place to grab the headlines, and he has done it. That is more than most could say. Expressing one’s views, even– or especially– if others oppose them is what makes America truly special. For all of the concerns Americans have about their country, making others aware is the first step in the direction of progress.
Every student at Ridgewood High School is receiving a stellar education. This gives us power. We all take United States History, and have learned the lessons of those who have come before us. We have learned about the values of the American revolutionaries who fought to create this free country. It is our duty to make something of what we learned, or else it is all for naught. For a democracy to properly function, everyone must be represented in their views, opinions, and votes. It is essential that each individual ensure they are doing their part and voicing their opinions before complaining that the country is falling apart. The duty we owe to our country is not to simply stand up and salute the flag, but to utilize the rights we are born with to assure they are bestowed upon those who follow us. As a democratic nation of individuals with inalienable rights, let us take some of Kaepernick’s initiative to stand up for what we believe in, even if it means taking a knee.
Image: Jessica Chang