Today is Flag Day, not one of the most widely celebrated holidays in the national calendar, but a day on which thoughtful Americans pay homage not to a mere piece of red, white and blue fabric, but to the republic for which it stands — which is all of us.
But this year there has been a great deal of controversy surrounding the American flag as critics of our government commit the error of assuming the flag represents the government alone. A lot of misunderstanding surrounds those controversies that concern the flag and protests against government in general.
Last year, some professional football players knelt as the national anthem was played and the flag was raised before their games began, as a protest against the killing of unarmed young black men by police. They claimed the right to protest that blacks seem to lack equal protection under the law, that they are targeted by American law enforcement. Others have taken that as a show of disrespect to the nation’s military.
This year, the National Football League has decreed that if players feel the need to protest, they may remain off the field until after the anthem is played. If they choose to come out on the field, team owners may require them to stand respectfully. That is an infringement upon the players’ First Amendment rights, some of their supporters say.
It is no such thing. Professional sports teams are businesses. They are entitled to require that their employees not behave in a manner that turns away customers — fans at games in this case. The Supreme Court has ruled that such controls by businesses are perfectly compatible with the First Amendment. It is not the government limiting their right to protest, after all.
And if the government is the target of the players’ protests, why disrespect the flag? They may not comprehend that the flag does not stand for the government. It is a symbol of us as a nation.
And who are we? We are a people who in the past have made many mistakes, both of the head and the heart. We are a people who continue to err.
But the overwhelming majority of Americans are good-hearted people. Anyone who doubts that has not bothered to know us.
We are people who understand our nation is not perfect, but who are determined to make it better, as did our ancestors.
No other people on the face of the earth devotes as much of what we Americans earn to helping others, both here and abroad. No other people anguishes as we do over the rights of others. No other people wants peace as much as we do.
Our flag stands for our nation, both as we are and as we hope to be.
Today, then, ought to be a day to salute Old Glory. Long may she wave!