Friends of Padre Steve’s World,
Over the past month I have been watching and occasionally commenting on the kneeling during the National Anthem controversy on my social media accounts but not here. But tonight I want to share a few thoughts on the actions of NFL players who have protested continued inequities, injustice, evil, and racism in the United States by choosing to kneel during the National Anthem.
The fact is these players as much as their critics claim otherwise are not protesting the Flag, nor are they insulting the troops. They are doing what all true American patriots have done since the beginning of our American experiment. They are being as patriotic as our founders were when they not only criticized, but took up arms against England. After all as Adlai Stevenson once said “Do not… regard the critics as questionable patriots. What were Washington and Jefferson and Adams but profound critics of the colonial status quo?”
They are acting in the best tradition of America, they are peacefully protesting. They are not committing violence, they are using their position to draw attention to things in our society which must be addressed if we are in the words of the Preamble of the Constitution “to form a more perfect Union.” They are speaking of how we as Americans still fail to live up to the promise embodied but never perfected in the words“we hold these truths to be self evident: that all men are created equal…” From our earliest days as a nation we as a people have struggled with that ideal and at every point in our there have been Americans who have, often much to the chagrin of others have protested in some way how we failed to live up to that ideal.
When freshman Congressman Abraham Lincoln spoke up against James K. Polk’s invasion of Mexico in 1848 he was condemned as unpatriotic by many and was not returned to the House of Representatives, but he was heard. When Henry Clay, a slave-owner himself condemned that war as a means to expand slavery he lost his last chance to gain the Presidency. When Stephen Douglas opposed the attempt by pro-slavery partisans to use an illegitimate election in Kansas to have that territory admitted as a slave state he lost his chance to win the Presidency in 1860. I could go on with hundreds of examples, from the Suffragettes of the early Women’s rights movement who fought for the right to vote and equality in the workplace; the abolitionists, white and black, who resisted laws which enslaved Blacks in the slave states and enabled slave owners to go into Free States and avoid U.S. courts to re-enslave any Black be they a former slave or not solely based on the word of a slave holder; Civil Rights leaders who were imprisoned, beaten, and sometimes killed for defying unjust laws…
I am sorry but the list could go on and on and on. In every case they were declared by their opponents to be both unpatriotic and lawbreakers. Today, many are saying those things about those who protest during the National anthem at sporting events while defending people who are working day in and day out to roll back the rights of other Americans, and sadly, that does include the President and many members of his political party. When I say sadly, it is because I belonged to and supported that party for 32 years until after my tour in Iraq, when I saw the lies of how the war had been sold by my party, lies which I believed in spite of evidence to the contrary. The last part was my fault, I should have known better, yet I condemned the war’s opponents as being unpatriotic only to find that they were right.
So now, nearly a decade later I support the right to protest as I would not have before Iraq. While I would not take a knee at the National Anthem even if I wasn’t still in the military I cannot condemn those who do. Patriotism involves much more than respecting the Flag, it means respecting and honoring the principles and ideals in Declaration of Independence, our Constitution and Bill of Rights, the Gettysburg Address, Franklin Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream and re-dedicating ourselves to the “new birth of freedom” that Lincoln alluded in the Gettysburg Address. To do that we must remove the blinders from our eyes, to re-look at our own history to get past the myths and untruths that have been used to buttress the the claims of those who want to squelch unpopular dissent and uncomfortable truths.
Mark Twain said some words that all should hold dear:
“Each of you, for himself, by himself and on his own responsibility, must speak. And it is a solemn and weighty responsibility, and not lightly to be flung aside at the bullying of pulpit, press, government, or the empty catch-phrases of politicians. Each must for himself alone decide what is right and what is wrong, and which course is patriotic and which isn’t. You cannot shirk this and be a man. To decide it against your convictions is to be an unqualified and inexcusable traitor, both to yourself and to your country, let men label you as they may. If you alone of all the nation shall decide one way, and that way be the right way accordng to your convictions of the right, you have done your duty by yourself and by your country—hold up your head.”
One cannot sit in silence while Americans, particularly racial or religious minorities, women, and gays are threatened through legislation and sometimes violent action by other Americans who for whatever reason want to return the country to a place where those people cannot exercise those rights. If we do what good are we? If we do are we any better than those who looked the other way in the Third Reich when Jews, Gypsies, Gays, Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Handicapped, and others were marched off to Concentration Camps?
When I salute the Flag I salute the symbol of ideals not yet fully realized, and when I do so I pay honor and respect to all of those whose patriotism was lived out over a lifetime, and while I include the men and women who served in the military in that, I also include all of those dissidents whose sacrifice paved the way for every new advance of freedom in this country. Likewise, I remember the times that we as a nation have fallen short of those ideals and I recommit myself to my oath of office to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and to bear true faith and allegiance to the same…
As I do that I have to stand for the right of the players and others to peacefully protest anywhere and by whatever means they choose no matter how unpopular it is or how uncomfortable it makes us. Frederick Douglass said:
“If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”
So until tomorrow,