Bending the Knee of the First Amendment

I’ve been thinking about the bended knee issue. Our President’s responses provided me an imperative that I had to write my opinion. I’ll explain why, but living in a democracy with our Bill of Rights is hard – and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

My undergraduate and graduate work was wrapped around political science, history, computers and business. I ended up as an Information Technology practitioner, but that is another story.

I tell you that not to come off as an expert. I am not. Those disciplines did give me a foundation in trying to be neutral and asking questions around political/social/business events. It also gave me a profound appreciation for the Constitution of the United States and the path we have chosen as a country. My formative years in high school and college were dressed up with the Watts riots, Birmingham protests, Vietnam, Woodstock, Apollo11, and a host of other national challenges that formed my generation.

As a result of my studies and my environment, I respect both sides of the political spectrum. I have good friends that are liberal or conservative and everywhere in between. I don’t hang with extremists on either side nor people who are noxious with conspiracy theory. Otherwise, if you respect my opinions, I’ll respect yours. I just won’t spend a lot of time arguing one or the other.

The effect on me is that I consider myself a progressive pragmatist. Paint that as slightly left with an understanding of how a market economy works. I am a big believer in a central government with states that are subordinate. Remember, prior to the Constitution we operated under the Article of Confederation, which favored states rights. The end result was an absolute mess: No common currency, border regulations between states, disparity in legal jurisdictions and precedence. In other words, the states did what they wanted and mostly that meant not cooperating with each other. We had just concluded a war to gain our freedom and the resulting government was worse than the one that we had thrown off. That set a principle in my mind – the state government will always operate toward it’s own best interest and not that of the people.

Constitution and gavel

At the time of its writing James Madison convinced the Constitutional Congress to include ten amendments to further define the rights of the people. The Constitution defines the form of the government, the Bill of Rights (the first 10 amendments) define the limits of the government with regard to the citizens of the US. Yes, citizens then were just those white guys and gals, even though the gals weren’t seen as equal enough to vote. Fortunately, built into the Constitution was a means to evolve. The balancing between the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches is a work of art and one we should all understand.

Consider that the President and Vice President of the United States are the only elected officials who are elected to represent the entire country. Think about that. Being President is, by its pure definition, not like running a business. I requires a perspective that is balanced and considered to benefit all of the US citizens. Whether you think our recent Presidents have met that standard is something you should consider. But I want to get to the bent knee thing.


Let’s get to the First Amendment where speech is protected. I love this Amendment. If I ever get a tattoo (and I have no plans to) it would be the words of this Amendment.

Congress shall make no laws respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free expression thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

It’s real simple. The government will not ever create or mandate a religion; it will not prohibit any person from believing as they wish; it guarantees freedom of speech, the press and assembly for the people.  In this case, the “people” are individuals. This amendment does not apply to corporations (or at least it shouldn’t). NOTE: The First Amendment is the only place in the US Constitution where the word “religion” is used. There is no occurrence of Christian, church, Jesus or any related word.

Here’s the real deal. The First Amendment makes living in the United States a challenge because is guarantees that people who disagree with you are allowed the same public voice and religious practice that you are. It mandates that every US citizen respects their fellow citizen’s freedom of speech.

That’s why I don’t mind that many of my friends don’t agree with my political or religious beliefs. I think it is healthy. I love them all the same.

It is the speech part that is of interest. You have the total freedom to say and print/broadcast what you want unless it violates some criteria that have since been established. That is important. The freedom of speech is not absolute. There are specific laws relating to libel and slander. There is also a protection for the public for use of speech that might jeopardize the public good (yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater), which includes inciting people to riot or violence.


Over the centuries we continue to hone this amendment and our understanding of what real freedom of speech means. Specific to the flag, the national anthem and other shows of patriotism, there is clear precedent that no one is required to stand during the national anthem and that they can peaceable demonstrate in protest. It is fundamental. Where did it come from?

In 1943 The US Supreme Court ruled in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette that government officials can not force an individual to participate in a patriotic ritual. And they can not punish you for not participating. This was about the desire to not say the pledge of allegiance at the start of the school day. But it was most clearly stated as a protection of the individual from the government.  In their majority opinion the Court said:

If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matter of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.

A mighty protection of your freedom of speech. It means a government clerk cannot withhold giving you a marriage license because their religious beliefs don’t match yours or that a football player is required to stand for the playing of the national anthem.

I always stand for the anthem. I always put my hand over my heart. I don’t sing ‘cuz my voice sucks. I may not agree with those who don’t salute or stand, but I am so glad I live in a country where they are allowed to not be forced or coerced into participating in a patriotic ritual.


To add some fuel to the fire, I’m not sure the image above is authorized. Yes, there is a code for use of the flag. I’ll attach the section about Respect for the Flag as an appendix, but it is an interesting read. In other words, all those flag decals are violations, as are any clothing articles that display the flag. So the NFL needs to remove the flags from all uniforms if they want to follow the code. If they don’t they must at least immediately clean any soiled flag during the game.

You may not agree with what I’ve said. That is your call. I’m more than happy to live with those who disagree with me. To be clear, if you are a racist, a Nazi or, in any way, a threat to these freedoms, you are no friend of mine.

Run Smooth, Run Easy



4 U.S. Code § 8 – Respect for flag

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No disrespect should be shown to the flag of the United States of America; the flag should not be dipped to any person or thing. Regimental colors, State flags, and organization or institutional flags are to be dipped as a mark of honor.


The flag should never be displayed with the union down, except as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property.


The flag should never touch anything beneath it, such as the ground, the floor, water, or merchandise.


The flag should never be carried flat or horizontally, but always aloft and free.


The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery. It should never be festooned, drawn back, nor up, in folds, but always allowed to fall free. Bunting of blue, white, and red, always arranged with the blue above, the white in the middle, and the red below, should be used for covering a speaker’s desk, draping the front of the platform, and for decoration in general.


The flag should never be fastened, displayed, used, or stored in such a manner as to permit it to be easily torn, soiled, or damaged in any way.


The flag should never be used as a covering for a ceiling.


The flag should never have placed upon it, nor on any part of it, nor attached to it any mark, insignia, letter, word, figure, design, picture, or drawing of any nature.


The flag should never be used as a receptacle for receiving, holding, carrying, or delivering anything.


The flag should never be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever. It should not be embroidered on such articles as cushions or handkerchiefs and the like, printed or otherwise impressed on paper napkins or boxes or anything that is designed for temporary use and discard. Advertising signs should not be fastened to a staff or halyard from which the flag is flown.


No part of the flag should ever be used as a costume or athletic uniform. However, a flag patch may be affixed to the uniform of military personnel, firemen, policemen, and members of patriotic organizations. The flag represents a living country and is itself considered a living thing. Therefore, the lapel flag pin being a replica, should be worn on the left lapel near the heart.


The flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.

(Added Pub. L. 105–225, § 2(a), Aug. 12, 1998, 112 Stat. 1497.)






1 thought on “Bending the Knee of the First Amendment

  1. Jerry – timely words indeed, thank you for saying and putting into words much of what I have been thinking. Although I do have other thoughts on the matter as well, like yours, they are mine 🙂 Thank you.

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