Patriotism and protest have always had an edgy relationship in American culture. Recently, headlines about patriotism and protest have become part of our ongoing national dialogue ever since Colin Kaepernick, then quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers, refused to stand for the National Anthem (or “The Star Spangled Banner”) in 2016. His actions sparked a range of reactions, some positive and others negative.

I wanted to explore a few of the most asserted proclamations about patriotism in general, and the National Anthem. I think a little history is first required to look at matters such as this in the best context. (I use various sources to verify my information, but I can’t vouch with 100% certainty that these are 100% factual. If you know of someone who can vouch for 100% accuracy 100% of the time, let me know. That would be 100% fantastic!)

The U.S. Congress formally made “The Star Spangled Banner” our National Anthem in 1931. The lyrics were written by Francis Scott Key in 1814, and set to the melody of a popular British song. You can find the melody and original lyrics of that British song online. The original song is a drinking song that celebrated women, wine, and entertainment for the Anacreontic Society – a British social club. There are four verses to the original poem written by Key, with a fifth verse added by Oliver Wendell Holmes, an American poet and physician. His verse was added in protest of the Civil War. Generally, only the first verse of the anthem is played at most events – it’s a long song. The anthem references “hireling and slave,” and “land of the free” in the same verse. Well, it was 1814.

By now, you may be asking yourself, “Is it illegal not to stand and follow U.S. Code Title 36, subtitle 301 regarding proper conduct during the playing of the National Anthem?” Or, you may be saying, “I didn’t know there was a U.S. Code regarding proper conduct during the National Anthem. There is, but the code doesn’t entail penalties for non-compliance because it is simply a guide to be followed voluntarily by civilians and civilian groups. While technically the conduct in the Code is law, it’s a law to be followed on a voluntary basis. The conduct includes: hand on heart, no headwear, and facing the flag among a few other stipulations. Over time, modifications to the original code of conduct have been changed.

Let’s look at our Pledge of Allegiance, which was written by Socialist minister, Francis Bellamy, in 1892. What’s with all these people named Francis writing our nation’s pledges and proclamations? The original pledge by this socialist had no reference to the “Flag of the United States of America,” and the words “under God” weren’t added until 1954 when Eisenhower felt they were needed in opposition to the Communist threat of the times. Let that sink in… A pledge by a Socialist was amended to counter perceived Communist threats. It is considered patriotic to stand with one’s hand over their heart when reciting. The original conduct required one to extend their hand toward the flag, but with the rise of the Nazi party, whose salute looked strikingly similar, the proper code of conduct was amended. U. S. Code 4, subtitle 4 is the law regarding proper conduct during the reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance. In 1943, the Supreme Court reversed a decision that required students in public schools be compelled to recite the pledge. They cited the reversal as protecting free speech, guaranteed under the First Amendment. About that “under God,” thing… The original addition supposedly was to quote Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address, but Lincoln didn’t utter the phrase “under God,” which insinuates a nation cloaked under the tenets of a religion. He uttered “God willing,” which doesn’t insinuate any status regarding the nature of the nation’s relationship to “God.”

The point of the last few paragraphs is: 1) there are no penalties for not standing during the playing of the anthem, or not reciting the pledge; 2) both of these customs have dubious beginnings; 3) and most importantly, proper conduct in regard to both has changed over the years. Or as I like to say, everything is subject to the contemporary whims of mere mortals.

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads: “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.” Of course, we know that amendments and clauses and other changes have modified the original document, but the right to peaceably assemble has always been a priority belief of our democracy. Our founding fathers, or patriots as many would call them, probably weren’t peaceably assembling when they destroyed British property, but it’s hard to start a revolution without breaking stuff. Our Declaration of Independence established the basis for protest in its words, “Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury.” It establishes that the break from England comes in some respect not only because of the failure of that government to cease its injurious behavior, but because those injuries continued to that day!

So, we’re back to Colin Kaepernick kneeling at football games to protest what he perceived to be unequal treatment of African Americans by law enforcement, and our judiciary. At this point I was about to present a litany of statistics to show that the United States indeed seems to provide an inadequate level of equitable treatment to minorities. As I spoke to friends about this point, some agreed. Some disagreed. Some who disagreed told me that the FBI was a fascist, unlawful organization and that their statistics were a sham. Of course, I had statistics from other sources, but apparently they were all sham entities.

Then it dawned on me. The First Amendment has nothing to do with whether free people are correct in the accuracy or provability of their grievances. You may believe that your local government is planting trees to over-oxygenate the planet. Whether you are correct or not has nothing to do with your right to peaceably assemble and peaceably protest, and peaceably seek a redress of grievances. So I’ll spare you the statistics.

Assertion #1
“Kneeling during the National Anthem is disrespecting our military and their sacrifices.”

First, there is no indication that the men who penned our National Anthem or the Pledge of Allegiance did so in tribute to our military. Furthermore, there have been military personnel who have knelt while the anthem is played. Are they disrespecting themselves and their sacrifice? One high school athlete who knelt in a high school game indicated that he did it so he could pray to God while the anthem was being played. I was personally taught that you disrespected God when you failed to approach him with the required reverence and respect of kneeling. So, should that player have respected his military and their sacrifices by continuing to stand, while disrespecting God if he prayed? Should he have prayed before the playing of the anthem? Well, what if God spoke to him at that moment and told him to kneel and pray? There have been senior military service-people who have sided with athletes kneeling during the anthem.

Our military has often been used in foreign wars to liberate and free oppressed people. In some instances, these oppressed people didn’t enjoy the freedoms we enjoy in the United States. Wouldn’t it be disrespectful to our military personnel if we started restricting the kind of freedoms in this country that they were willing to sacrifice their lives for in other countries? Imagine that a U.S. soldier risks his life in combat overseas to build freedom, returns to the U.S. and becomes a professional athlete, kneels during the playing of the National Anthem, and is told that he’s disrespecting his country…

Assertion #2
“It’s inappropriate for people to protest during events.”

The idea of protest is to bring attention to a cause that may be significant enough to warrant redress. In order to bring attention, it usually also brings some discomfort and anxiety. If it doesn’t, maybe it’s not worthy of attention. You can’t get much attention if you protest in the middle of nowhere, with no one watching. To the credit of athletes kneeling, nothing is being disrupted. They are not stopping the National Anthem from playing, or stopping others who are not kneeling to conduct themselves in the manner they prefer. They are not kneeling in the middle of play, on the field. I’ve been to athletic events where the guy standing next to me for the National Anthem was drunk and picking his nose. It didn’t stop me from placing my hand over my heart and looking toward the flag. What is inappropriate about using your First Amendment right to express your feelings in a way that doesn’t disrupt others?

Assertion #3
“Kneeling is disrespectful to our country.”

If our country was truly founded on freedom and liberties, then why wouldn’t its citizens take measures to increase, enjoy and exploit freedom and liberty for all? There is a comprehensive study conducted each year with findings published in “The Human Freedom Index.” You can find it online. It is a broad measure of human freedom by country as it relates to personal, civil and economic freedom. Amongst other things, its findings for 2017 suggest that freedom for humanity has been declining since 2008. It also finds that the United States ranks 17th behind other nations for personal, civil, and economic freedom. Seventeenth! Kneeling in protest is a statement of personal freedom. The patriots who founded this country committed violent acts at times in their protest. Their country was still England. Were they being disrespectful to their country?

Assertion #4
“Kneeling is disrespectful and unfair to your employer who pays you.”

This may be the most valid assertion, in my opinion. Imagine you’re a government contractor who makes munitions for the military. Imagine you and your employees are being honored at an athletic event. Your company name is being flashed across the scoreboard, and the crowd is cheering wildly. As your employees march across the field, one of them kneels in protest. So much for all of your branding efforts…

Could that employee be fired? That question is a matter of labor law. While certain actions by employees may be legally restricted in the workplace, and even how they conduct themselves outside of the workplace, there are still personal freedoms that cannot be infringed upon. In the case of the NFL, you haven’t seen a player directly fired for their actions, and even fining the players is on hold now. Why? Because there are freedoms guaranteed by our U. S. Constitution regardless of what you may be doing at the time or who employs you.

Yes, if you play in the NFL you likely make a very good living – millions of dollars perhaps. So what? Is there a price on our freedoms and liberties? Money or lack of money, or the possibility of losing money should not be a prerequisite for exercising your Constitutional rights, or trying to make your country better. The employers have the choice to offer less money, trade players, or not play them if they are offended by their conduct on the field. In fact, I wish they would. Maybe the marketplace should settle the question. It would be a good way to find out if the players and owners believe more in their pocketbook or their patriotism.

My Personal Conclusions
If you feel that kneeling, or failing to put your hand over your heart during the National Anthem is wrong, then don’t do it. If you feel that kneeling is a valid form of protest to draw attention to issues, then exercise your freedom to do so. Whatever you’re doing, take some time to look at the person who may be doing the opposite of you, and smile at them. They are exercising their freedom in a peaceful manner, in a great country founded on some great principles. We should all be happy for that.

You can contact The Good Negro at

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