Laursen: Part one of three free speech: Who gets free speech?

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In light of recent events, it is clear that Trump feels that some should not be able to peacefully protest against the government.

By Lucee Laursen

lucee-laursen@uiowa.edu

The First Amendment explicitly states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

The way President Trump has spoken about the Charlottesville protest and the NFL players kneeling leads me to believe that not everyone should be able to protest peacefully against the government. At least not according to him.

In the middle of August, a group of white supremacists set out on a chilly Virginia night. Screaming “white lives matter,” carrying lit torches, the group paraded down the streets of Charlottesville. This planned event spiraled out of control when violence became involved. But for the purpose of this column, I want to focus on the group’s right to free speech.

The words spoken by many of the white supremacists that night and the following day were incredibly offensive but completely legal. Weeks prior to their parade, the white-supremacist group requested a permit to hold their parade. When the city of Charlottesville the permit, and the right to free speech, the group sought out the ACLU.

The ACLU threatened to sue Charlottesville for denying citizens their right of free speech. Subsequently, the group got its permit to hold the parade.

RELATED: Guest Opinion: Protest is American even when we disagree with it

President Trump responded to the horrific acts that occurred in Charlottesville not by urging the supremacists to stop using their right to free speech but by saying, “We have many incredible things happening in our country, so when I watch Charlottesville, to me it is very, very sad.” Trump spoke out many different times about the event, but he never questioned the supremacists’ right to express their opinions. Rather, he focused on the acts of violence and hate.

Fast forward two months later. At the beginning of football games, players across the nation have been kneeling during the playing of the national anthem. Players are doing this to represent their opposition to police brutality. It is fully within their first amendment right to do so.

Many people have taken to the media to express their opinions on the subject. Some stand in solidarity with the NFL players, others find what they are doing to be anti-American. Trump has tweeted, “Very important that NFL players STAND tomorrow, and always, for the playing of our National Anthem. Respect our Flag and our Country!”

This tweet is attacking NFL players’ First Amendment rights. Trump is entitled to his own opinions on any matter. But, as the president of the United States, he sets a tone for the rest of the country. So if Trump urges NFL players not to use their First Amendment rights, it seems acceptable for the rest to do so.

The Supreme Court has ruled that American citizens have the right to burn the American flag. If we have this right, we certainly have the right to kneel during the national anthem. Regardless of your own personal opinion about an issue, all are entitled to their First Amendment rights. Everyone. Not just those who you agree with. It is unacceptable for any government official to say otherwise.

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