The Bill Of Rights Says No One Has To Stand For The Anthem

image of students giving Bellamy salute in 1941
Forced Patriotism circa 1941

I never liked being forced to do something especially if I had major moral issues about it. I had a telemarketing job where I had to sell stuff I knew people didn’t need to buy. As a kid, I hated having to recite the pledge of allegiance and as an adult I refuse to recite it and I don’t stand the for the national anthem. It isn’t because I hate my country, it’s because I love my country and want it to do better. If the pledge and anthem mean anything it’s my right to address my grievances with my government like not standing for the national anthem.

“If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.” – Justice Robert Jackson West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette (1943)

Colin Kaepernick, formerly of the San Francisco 49ers football team, decided to sit on the bench, in 2016, when the US National Anthem was played at his games. He did this to protest police brutality and racial inequality happening around the country. Kaepernick later changed to kneeling to show respect for the military yet still protest the issues he was concerned about. He is also being boycotted by the owners of other NFL teams after he elected to opt out of his 49ers contract. It seems his protests are the reason behind not being signed by another team.

This season the protests are back in the news because the issues haven’t been resolved and President Trump decided to parrot the false talking point that people who kneel are being disrespectful of the flag and country.

“The anthem protests, which began when Colin Kaepernick kneeled during the national anthem last fall, seemed to come up randomly while Trump was rallying an Alabama crowd to support Luther Strange in a primary election.

Trump said NFL owners should get rid of players like that.

“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out, he’s fired. He’s fired,'” Trump said. “You know, some owner is going to do that. He’s going to say, ‘That guy that disrespects our flag, he’s fired.’ And that owner, they don’t know it [but] they’ll be the most popular person in this country.””

With ‘son of a bitch’ comments, Trump tried to divide NFL and its players

Conservative friends of mine have been cheering on Trump’s tirade and also ignoring the actual reason for the protests in the first place.

This hubbub made me look back on my own personal actions concerning the anthem and pledge of allegiance.

I haven’t recited the pledge since sometime in elementary school. Sure I stood up and placed my hands over my heart but I only mouthed the words, I never voiced them out loud. It’s legal precedent that children in school can’t be forced to say the pledge but I stopped saying the pledge because I didn’t believe the words applied to my actual reality. I believe that saying the pledge is about effective as praying and I didn’t do that either even back then. Reciting the pledge also doesn’t make you a better citizen.

As an adult I refuse to say the pledge and I haven’t stood or sang the anthem in decades. When watching sports on TV, I either mute the TV or switch to another channel. I hate corporate patriotism and the fact that the NFL once was paid to include tacky militarism disguised as ‘patriotism’ in their pre-game time makes me want to not sing the anthem or stand that much more.

Forcing anyone to say the pledge or stand for the anthem (or worse threatening them or intimidating them to stand) is so opposite the ideals behind the pledge and anthem that it makes me angry that I have to point it out to people.

If you want to see the real slippery slope that happens from forced patriotism check out the article about a previous pledge case: Minersville School District v. Gobitis (1940).

Justice Jackson, in his West Virginia ruling noted above, also said this about national symbols:

[They are a] “primitive but effective way of communicating ideas,” and explained that “a person gets from a symbol the meaning he puts into it, and what is one man’s comfort and inspiration is another’s jest and scorn.”

Ignoring the issue behind the protest and just focusing on the protest itself makes you look like an ass (and probably a little bigoted, unintentionally or otherwise) and makes the point of the protest even more just.