“Orthodoxy means not thinking--not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness.”
George Orwell, 1984
In present society, there is a looming danger that dangles above all the citizens of the United States: the death of diversity of thought. Recently, in the growing debate over those who chose to kneel in the presence of the conglomerate NFL, the most striking response is calls for the protesters to be punished, fired, or even prosecuted in court of law. These calls are no more than orders to put down those who stray from the ideological pact, and to silence those who would bring attention to the most prevalent of issues surrounding the mistreatment of minorities in America: police brutality. Let there be no doubt, the First Amendment for centuries has always protected the rights of anyone of its citizens to speak out in any form they wish, whether that be literal, printed, or symbolic speech. Now, in the face of this national free speech debate, it's more important than ever to understand the history, the past precedents, and the true reasons why the players’ right to kneel has been, and always will be solidified by the First Amendment.
Rewind fifty years to 1960. In the landmark Supreme Court case of its time, Tinker v. Des Moines, the issue of symbolic speech was at the front of the Vietnam War debate. A group of students wore black armbands with the peace symbol inscribed on them to their high school. The administration attempted to force the students to remove them, citing their symbolic speech didn’t fall under the protection of the First Amendment, much like those arguing against the kneeling today. Quickly thereafter, the Court published its assenting opinion in favor of the students. The ruling in this particular case is just one of many Supreme Court verdicts that establishes the precedent that all forms of speech are covered under the First Amendment. In legal terms, this stomps out any notion that symbolic speech isn’t secured by the First Amendment.
Adding further historical context, in the pre-Constitution era of 1774, the First Continental Congress was organized in response to the Intolerable Acts. This is a prime example of symbolic speech being used even before the First Amendment was conceptualized, and demonstrates that the Founding Fathers did in fact keep in mind when writing the Constitution that symbolic forms of speech were effective and necessary ways to protest a government action (or lack thereof, in modern context). The fact that this has only been affirmed time after time by the Supreme Court truly leaves it up to no question that there is a sacred protection on the right of all Americans, no matter how unpopular their speech is, to have absolute authority and autonomy on what they choose to say.
Moving back to 2018, symbolic speech is an argument that spans beyond the kneeling during the national anthem. It encompasses a much wider scope, one that questions the power the citizens of the United States to challenge their institutions to change for the better. With the football season over, and no players being punished for exercising their Constitutional rights, the kneeling is just one example of a battle won in the fight for racial equality. In the future, America would be wise to look at the history, the past precedent, and acknowledge that a citizen's right to speech is sacred, in order to preserve the essence of our democracy, and American dream at its very core: diversity of thought.