“Congress shall make no law … 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.”
In describing the First Amendment to the Constitution, our U.S. Supreme Court has stated, “If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea offensive or disagreeable. Both speech and petition are integral to the democratic process. … The right to petition allows citizens to express their ideas, hopes and concerns to their government and their elected representatives, whereas the right to speak fosters the public exchange of ideas that is integral to deliberative democracy as well as to the whole realm of ideas and human affairs.”
In recent days, there has been much consternation about whether it is disrespectful or inappropriate to kneel during the playing of our national anthem during sporting events. Interestingly, in 1943, the Supreme Court had to address a similar situation. In West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, the Court decided that the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protected students from being forced to salute the American flag.
The justice who wrote the decision declared: “The case is made difficult not because the principles of its decision are obscure, but because the flag involved is our own. Nevertheless, we apply the limitations of the Constitution with no fear that freedom to be intellectually and spiritually diverse or even contrary will disintegrate the social organization. To believe that patriotism will not flourish, if patriotic ceremonies are voluntary and spontaneous, instead of a compulsory routine, is to make an unflattering estimate of the appeal of our institutions to free minds.”