By Nathan Williams
[email protected]

The right to protest is patently American. Our nation was founded on the principles of freedom and expression. The president started off last weekend by openly condemning player activists who have kneeled during the national anthem at football games. Calling them “sons of bitches” and advocating that they be fired, he set a dangerous precedent regarding the free speech rights of
Americans, especially Americans upset with an inherently disadvantageous system. Not only are the president’s actions unprecedented, but also  unconstitutional, immoral and illegal.

The Bill of Rights, enumerated in the Constitution, was originally intended to
protect people from the overreaches of government. The Anti-Federalists, worried that the Constitution vested more power in a strong central government, fought to codify a list of the inalienable rights of citizens, including the First Amendment.

As time progressed, these rights have come to define the American experience, protecting the rights of speech, assembly and due process under the law. These rights, if violated by the executive, legislative or judicial branches, must be vigorously defended.

These football players’ actions mirror many protests in the past and are well within their constitutional rights to perform. Attempting to suppress the calls for justice of those that are systemically oppressed is inherently immoral.

These institutions, while being less prevalent today, still affect communities of color in many ways. Institutionally supported actions such as slavery, redlining and order-maintenance policing have adversely affected communities of color throughout American history.

The President of the United States, from a moral standpoint, should not be attempting to silence speech that protests both the past and present inequities that have marked adverse socio-economic effects on Americans. The illegality of this action comes from a little-known U.S. code, specifically Title 18, Part 1, Chapter 11, number 227. This code actively forbids the president and all other members of the United States government from influencing the employment  decisions of private companies.

This would extend to the National Football League, a large private employer.
Because the NFL is considered a private corporation, the president cannot legally coerce the presidents of the teams to take purely partisan action. To protest is to be American.

We have protested, since our inception as a nation, about the injustices that surround us. From Shay’s Rebellion during the Articles of Confederation to the Civil Rights Movement, protesting has been key to igniting and continuing social movements. The First Amendment provides these freedoms and should not be infringed upon, especially not by the president. Corrective action must be taken.

This is the opinion of Nathan Williams, SJU junior