The NFL “take a knee” controversy, once an annoying brush fire, has turned into a full-blown conflagration, with protestations, counter-protestations, expressions of “solidarity,” gestures, regrets in both directions, and calls for systematized boycotts. The conflagration is on Trump and his superb talent for the incendiary, but the brush fire is on opportunistic social-justice types, who seized on the action of and surrounding a nudnik to so division and controversy.

Now, people are arguing vehemently about whether it’s right or wrong to use the playing of the National Anthem at sporting events as a focus for protests, whether it’s right or wrong for people to react with distaste or punitive action (e.g. boycotts), whether it’s right or wrong for team owners to mandate behaviors from players, and whether “take a knee” is protected speech.

Lets get the first matter out of the way: it’s not. It’s a private-sector contractual matter between employers and employees, and a public-forum matter between non-government individuals. not something subject to First Amendment protections. Don’t believe me? Contemplate Lawrence Summers, James Damore, Brendan Eich, Gilbert Gottfried, Dennis Miller, and Michael Richards, all of whom suffered backlash for specific instances, and celebrities like The Dixie Chicks, Patricia Heaton, Kirk Cameron, Michael Moriarty, and countless others, who have experienced more generalized backlash over their political or religious beliefs. The fairness or merits of any of these instances is irrelevant – these are not First Amendment matters, since the government is not involved.

The matter at hand is one of social pressure, action and reaction, and it’s illustrative of a increasingly common and thus increasingly troubling trend: the defense of free speech is increasingly predicated on the message. An early but imperfect example of this is flag burning (imperfect in that it actually became a First Amendment issue, where today’s matters are not): Many people who were strong advocates for liberty took exception to this form of expression, and wanted that exception institutionalized, and many who defaulted to the idea that certain words or ideas should not be expressed at all wanted flag burning protected.

Many of the people siding with the anthem-kneelers believe that “hate speech” should be punished, that voicing an opinion that doesn’t align with their belief set warrants reprisal, that climate change “deniers” should be prosecuted, that using the wrong pronoun should be actionable, and that nonconformity to the “correct” worldview makes one a second-tier citizen who deserves to be overruled by the Best-and-Brightest.

The irony of believing that the anthem-kneelers should not face any condemnation or reprisal, when condemnation and reprisal is the preferred response to free speech that’s disliked, is lost on that crowd. I’d call it hypocrisy, but hypocrisy would be predicated on believing in actual freedom of speech. They don’t.

The only way to parse what’s been going on is to conclude that only correct speech is to be protected from negative response. Thus, anthem-kneeling should not be disparaged, but suggesting that there are only two genders or that global warming claims might be incorrect is to be considered a hate crime.

This, of course, stands liberty on its head. If you are only free to speak that which is already approved, you’ve no freedom at all. It’s tragic and dangerous that millions of people in this country think this way.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

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