Flag merits respect, but NFL wrong

As a retired soldier, I am especially proud and happy to salute our flag, not just during the National Anthem, but any time it’s on parade. While it is a piece of cloth with bright colors and, of itself, meaningless, it is a symbol that represents our country and all of its people. It definitely merits our respect.

It greatly disturbs me when I see blatant disrespect by anyone when our Anthem is being played. For example, when watching any sporting event, and it is played, I often see people in the stands moving around, talking, not even looking at the flag, some with cell phones either talking or playing with it, and so many other things.

These people are not making any point, they are just being disrespectful.

I did not witness Collin Kaepernick’s initial act of kneeling during the National Anthem. If I had, without knowing why he was doing it, my reaction would have been negative.

Now that I know, I still get a bad feeling in my stomach when I see it, but I understand why and defend his right to say it.

Here is what the law, passed by Congress, actually states about the National Anthem: “Title 36, U.S. Code § 301 – National anthem (a) Designation.— The composition consisting of the words and music known as the Star-Spangled Banner is the national anthem.

(b) Conduct During Playing.— During a rendition of the national anthem — (1) when the flag is displayed— (A) individuals in uniform should give the military salute at the first note of the anthem and maintain that position until the last note; (B) members of the Armed Forces and veterans who are present but not in uniform may render the military salute in the manner provided for individuals in uniform; and (C) all other persons present should face the flag and stand at attention with their right hand over the heart, and men not in uniform, if applicable, should remove their headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart; and (2) when the flag is not displayed, all present should face toward the music and act in the same manner they would if the flag were displayed.”

Individuals in the uniformed services have their own orders and know what to do; they don’t have a choice. Note, however, that (b)(1)(B) reads: “members … may render the military salute …”. Also note (b)(1)© reads: “all other persons should … men not in uniform … should remove their headdress …”.

The words “may” and “should” are not definite. They imply a voluntary act. Also, this US Code § 301 does not set any penalty by law for any violation or non-observance of this law.

Neither Kaepernick nor any other NFL players or owners have been arrested or charged with any crime for taking a knee.

Now, the Constitution of the United States, specifically, the 1st Amendment protects “Freedom of Speech.” It has long been established in constitutional law that physical acts may constitute a communication or “speech.” Examples may be burning of an effigy, a public demonstration, and so forth.

Taking a knee during the National Anthem is certainly a public demonstration and it falls under constitutional protection.

Collin Kaepernick and all the others taking a knee are exercising their constitutional right of freedom of speech. Since when is exercising a constitutional right disrespectful?

Is a man who, when arrested, refuses to speak being disrespectful when he exercises his constitutional right against self incrimination? Since when is exercising any constitutional right un-American?

If any American fails to exercise a constitutional right, or avail himself/ herself of it, that person is effectively giving up a constitutional right. In other words, he/she has no rights!

While the law does not “punish” anyone for these actions, the NFL has taken it upon themselves to do so. I say to the NFL that this punitive action is un-American.

All of us have the right to our feelings, but we should not condemn any for exercising their rights under our constitution, the supreme law of the land.

Guillermo Barrientes, Harlingen