In December 2013, I published a post on the Huff Post titled Stop Screaming ‘First Amendment.’ I wrote it after Phil Robertson was suspended from Duck Dynasty for his remarks about homosexuality, which followed others like Dr. Laura was spouting the “N” word, Don Imus for saying “Nappy-headed hos,” and Hank Williams Jr. for saying… well, whatever it was Hank Jr. said.
And while conservatives rushed to defend their heroes crying that their First Amendment rights had been violated, I pointed out that this was not a case of freedom of speech, but of pure capitalism. Companies have the right to fire employees if they violate policy or do something to hurt the bottom line.
If a McDonalds employee shows up for work wearing a Burger King shirt and tells all the customers that the Whopper is better than the Big Mac, his manager has a right to fire him.
Conservatives finally get that and now they’re quick to toss their newfound knowledge into the fray of the current situation involving NFL players kneeling for the National Anthem, claiming now that the First Amendment has nothing to do with it and the NFL can fire them for not standing.
It’s amazing how they think the First Amendment applies when people are shouting the “N” word but not when people are kneeling for the National Anthem. And they make a good argument. It’s a false argument, but still pretty good.
Back during WWII, quite possibly the most patriotic time in our country’s history, this very matter went before the Supreme Court when the West Virginia State Board of Education tried to make it illegal to not stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. The Supreme Court ruled:
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.
We think the action of the local authorities in compelling the flag salute and pledge transcends constitutional limitations on their power and invades the sphere of intellect and spirit which it is the purpose of the First Amendment of our Constitution to reverse from all official control.
To make anyone, an employee or just a citizen of this country, stand for the Pledge of Allegiance or for the National Anthem is a violation of -- no, could it be? Yes, you guessed it – their First Amendment rights.
So while players in the NFL make a lot more money than a McDonalds drive-thru worker, they’re still employees and the teams are still companies, and the McDonalds manager can no more make his employees adopt rituals of religion or nationalism than the owners in the NFL can.
It’s no wonder that conservatives are more upset about the NFL than the actions of their beloved conservative icons. Their leader in the White House sets that very tone. Think about it. President Donald Trump referred to people standing up for Nazism and white supremacy as “very fine people” and to people kneeling for injustice as “son-of-a-bitches.”
Racism and prejudiced politics aside, the day we start forcing citizens of this country to start standing for the National Anthem is the day we cease to be this country.