The world is a tense place right now. From unpopular election candidates in America to terrible acts of violence in the Middle East, prosperity seems like a far-away dream that’s never quite in reach. While many people are vying for their welfare in organized marches or acts of vigilance, there are quiet uprisings happening every day across the world.
Most recently in America, many able citizens are choosing to take a seat during the Pledge of Allegiance and the National Anthem, as a way of showing their discontent in a vast number of issues. This choice was brought into the news when Colin Kaepernick, an African American quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers, refused to stand for the anthem during a pre-game ceremony. His choice was met by public outrage, where many of the enraged claimed that Kaepernick was a traitor to his country.
But Kaepernick, or anyone else in America, is not required to stand. In fact, the option to participate in any national pledges, songs, or recitals is a Constitutional right. In an excerpt taken from the United States code, “During rendition of the national anthem when the flag is displayed, all present except those in (military) uniform should stand at attention facing the flag with the right hand over the heart. Men not in uniform should remove their headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart. Persons in uniform should render the military salute at the first note of the anthem and retain this position until the last note. When the flag is not displayed, those present should face toward the music and act in the same manner they would if the flag were displayed there” (Title 36, section 171).
Nonetheless, Kaepernick was still met with extreme prejudice after exercising his rights as an American. In an interview with NFL, Kaepernick says that his choice is “not something that [he is]m going to run by anybody” and that he is “not looking for approval. [He has] to stand up for people that are oppressed.” The NFL guidelines state that while standing is recommended, it is not required.
While Kaepernick is directly protected by NFL law, there are many unspoken citizens who are punished because they too exercised their right to take a seat during national rituals. Leilani Thomas, a high school student in California, had her grade lowered by a teacher for refusing to stand during the daily recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. Leilani is of Native American descent and has been sitting during the pledge ever since the second grade, when her parents explained the history between Native Americans and the colonists. Leilani said, “So I just started sitting down.” According to Leilani, the teacher claimed that Leilani was “making bad choices, and [she doesn’t] have the choice to sit during the pledge.”
Fortunately, the story spread online and the school district sided with Leilani, who was personally moved to a different classroom afterwards by the Superintendent. But Leilani’s story was a harsh reminder that Constitutional rights are constantly at the risk of being abused or discarded, and it is up to the people to take action in protecting them.
Rebellions have made their way into history as some of the most impactful events of all time, from winning the French their independence to ending slavery in America. The people who refuse to pledge their allegiance to a system that they believe is unfair are the ones who will send their nation, their society, and even their school, a true wake-up call. Patriotism should be exercised when a citizen is proud, not because of what their society determines is right or just. As the great philosopher Aristotle once said, “All persons ought to endeavor to follow what is right, and not what is established.”
Anderson is a contributor for The Millennial Times.