The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads as follows: “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.”
The amendment is a testament to America’s greatness as a democracy and serves as a beacon of hope for millions of people around the world yearning to be free.
But there’s more.
Because of the First Amendment, players of the National Football League are able to express their feelings about the racial injustices that remain a blot on this nation’s conscience, while neo-Nazis bearing swastikas have a right to march down the main streets of America’s cities.
That is why any effort to undermine “the right of the people peaceably to assemble” must be rejected by all freedom-loving citizens. Such rejection is especially necessary when it is the president of the United States who seeks to silence dissent.
“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, you’d say: ‘Get that son of a b---- off the field right now. Out! He’s fired,’” President Donald J. Trump said Friday at a political rally in Huntsville, Ala.
Trump was reacting to some athletes kneeling during the national anthem.
Such demonstrations began more than a year ago when San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand during the anthem. Kaepernick was peaceably protesting police treatment of minorities.
But Trump’s comments in Alabama, obviously designed to rile his adoring supporters, and his subsequent tweets that kept up the drumbeat of criticism, brought immediate and angry responses from NFL owners, coaches and players and other athletes, including Cleveland Cavaliers’ star LeBron James.
But the most poignant moment in this ongoing battle over the constitutionally protected rights that Trump seeks to step on came during Monday night’s NFL game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Arizona Cardinals.
Here’s how CNN described what occurred:
“Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones joined his team in taking a knee before the national anthem, then the Cowboys and the Arizona Cardinals players stood with arms locked for the anthem ahead of the ‘Monday Night Football’ kickoff.
“Still, the fans in Glendale, Ariz., booed as ‘America’s Team’ knelt.
“Cowboys star wide receiver Dez Bryant and running back Ezekiel Elliot said the team was sending a message to President Donald Trump, who in recent days has issued caustic criticism of the anthem protests that began as a means to decry racial and social injustice. They evolved over the weekend, with players responding to Trump’s remarks by kneeling, locking arms or remaining in their locker rooms during pregame performances of the anthem.”
It is noteworthy that Jones, who had previously criticized such protests on the sidelines of football games, said he was proud of his team for showing respect for the American flag while also showing unity, according to CNN.
“We want to stand and respect the flag,” he said. “Nothing we did tonight says anything other than that, but we also, as a complete team … want to be able to, when we can, demonstrate that unity is important and equality is important. So, the thing that I’m proud of these guys for, they did both.”
Two words in Jones’ statement are worth repeating because they speak to the widening racial, political and social divide in this country today: “unity” and “equality.”
Thus, rather than demonize the football players and others who seek to draw attention to the racial injustices in America, Trump should use the power of the presidency to address the grievances.
He can start by rejecting any suggestion of a moral equivalency between the groups fighting inequality in all its forms and those demanding a return to the era of white supremacy.
President Trump has insinuated himself into the controversy involving the NFL, but has shown little interest in leading a national dialogue on the legitimate concerns voiced by the players.