By Ken Reed

The New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobin recently wrote a compelling short piece about a First Amendment case heard by the Supreme Court in 1946. The case, West Virginia State Board v. Barnette, provides a great defense of the freedom of expression. It’s also a case that’s relevant to today’s debate about Colin Kaepernick’s national anthem protest.

In effect, Justice Robert Jackson’s opinion says that freedom requires those in power to allow citizens to express themselves how they see fit, even if it involves patriotic ceremonies, like standing for the national anthem.

To believe that patriotism will not flourish if patriotic ceremonies are voluntary and spontaneous, instead of a compulsory routine, is to make an unflattering estimate of the appeal of our institutions to free minds. We can have intellectual individualism and the rich cultural diversities that we owe to exceptional minds only at the price of occasional eccentricity and abnormal attitudes. When they are so harmless to others or to the State as those we deal with here, the price is not too great. But freedom to differ is not limited to things that do not matter much. That would be a mere shadow of freedom. The test of its substance is the right to differ as to things that touch the heart of the existing order.

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. If there are any circumstances which permit an exception, they do not now occur to us.

Exactly. Let’s all let Kaepernick peacefully make his statement during the national anthem. Nobody is in physical danger. The country will survive.

Who knows, the national discussion sparked by Kaepernick’s actions might result in a society that operates much closer to its ideals — including the First Amendment — than it does today.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


Comments are closed.

Set your Twitter account name in your settings to use the TwitterBar Section.