Patriotism and Freedom of Conscience

I believe in both freedom of conscience and liberty in action between consenting parties. I believe in peaceful, non-violent protest in support of seeking redress for grievances. I love the USA—my country, my home. I support the classically liberal ideals on which it was founded, the same ideals that gave rise to the historic Republican party and are supported in part by people affiliated with every political party (although I recognize and acknowledge that there has been a significant shift on some of the issues in both directions between the two major political parties over the last century). I detest what both of the major political parties have become and are becoming. I loath forced shows of nationalism under the guise of patriotism.

I support those who stand and salute the Flag during the playing of the national anthem in support of all that is good about our republic and those who serve our country. I support those who kneel during the same in protest of long standing social injustices that are being largely ignored in the national public discourse. Those standing and saluting are not necessarily ignoring these injustices or disrespecting those who protest. Those kneeling in protest are not necessarily disrespecting our country, our Flag, the ideals on which our country was founded, those who serve our country or those who stand and salute. Most people on both sides of this issue are displaying their love for liberty and are sincere in their desire for a better America, while some are simply going along with the crowd. Unfortunately, it seems as if many on both sides are not actively considering the valid concerns and reasons of the other for their choice and actions (of course, there are exceptions).

For those who are outraged at this "take the knee" issue, let's remember that unpopular speech is still free speech. What part of peaceful and nonviolent protest are we not understanding? Where does free speech end? Where do employer and employee rights intersect and diverge?

Should an employer be allowed to force either patriotic statements or political participation, partisan or not, on its employees? Rather, shouldn't we protect employees from forced patriotic and political speech and activity? If employers sponsor and encourage patriotism or political involvement on the job, shouldn't employees have the right to peacefully protest in the same context? Isn't it just as patriotic and liberty-loving to stand against evil and injustice in the public sphere? If the job is not explicitly politically oriented (e.g., a staff position with a partisan elected official or with a special issue or political action committee), why bring patriotism or politics into it? If requiring one's employees to stand at attention before the national flag while the national anthem plays isn't about making a statement, why do so at all? If employers force those employees who don't want to participate, let alone disagree with the statement, to stand aside or to be absent from the activities or otherwise punish them for non-participation, isn't that effectively creating a two class, shame-based system? Since when do we base the right to fair employment on the subscription and adherence to a public show of "patriotic" nationalism?

I know life-long Democrats who, being moderate left-leaning centrists, agree with the sentiment behind standing and saluting the Flag during the playing of the national anthem. I know life-long Republicans who, being moderate right-leaning centrists, agree with and support those who choose to "take the knee" instead. This is not a "Democrat vs. Republican" issue.

President Trump has been outspoken in his personal views on this matter. He has as much a 1st Amendment right as anyone to express these views, although he does need to make clear the difference between his personal views and the policy of his administration, as well as the fact that he understands this distinction. He also could be less divisive in his approach and demeanor (although these reflect his mindset and personality). He is explicitly attempting to influence private entities in employment decisions and practices using the his position of power to advance his private opinion and agenda; however, while this is a reprehensible and, in this context patently political, act of pandering to his base, this is not a violation of federal law (18 U.S.C. § 227) per se as some are claiming because he has not influenced, threatened or offered the taking or withholding of "an official act" "solely on the basis of partisan political affiliation", i.e., he hasn't threatened official repercussions for the organizations if they don't "fire or suspend" (as he called for it) the players who are non-Republican only on that basis.

Didn't the Nazis under the guise of patriotism require the people to stand and salute the Partieflagge while the national anthem Horst-Wessel-Leid played? Didn't the Nazis first persecute as unpatriotic and, as public opion shifted over time to accept this, prosecute as treasonous, those who refused to comply with the "lawful" order of the government to participate or otherwise spoke out against the evils of the Party and the Party-controlled government? Didn't "patriotic" employers under the Third Reich with impunity and the full support of their Führer penalize employees who did not comply? If we do the same, how are we any better?

Isn't this already a settled legal and ethical question for us in the USA? Why are we even having to discuss it in this context? Where and when do we draw—and cross—the line? How do learn from history and avoid repeating the same mistakes and committing the same atrocities? Do we even care?

We're so very different, aren't we? At least, shouldn't we be?

I know people on both sides of the Left-Right political spectrum who support and love or disapprove of and dislike our current president and his policies. This presidency is a result of a right-leaning centrist populist uprising against the political establishment, career politicians and the status quo. In my experience, most people are of a mixed opinion in this regard, including myself. If this is not your experience—if you find yourself surrounded by those mostly of one, unfied opinion—I invite and encourage you to expand your exposure to the larger discussion, if not circle of friends.

We all have our reasons for supporting one side or the other on this particular issue but when it comes down to ideals, the majority of people "in the middle" of the political spectrum are mostly agreed on the core principles of personal liberty, even if many are trapped in and blinded by the "Left-Right" false dichotomy. Partisan political affiliation is usually based on the ranking of priorities on personal views. I hate that so many have to "hold their nose" as they choose between the "lesser of two evils" at the ballot box, effectively "horse trading" between ideological principles and pragmatic realities.

Please, let's try to understand all sides of any issue, even if we still ultimately disagree. Let's try to be compassionate and and empathetic, or at least sympathetic, with our "respectful opposition". (It's still okay to detest fascism and racism of all brands.) Most of the time these issues are not mutually exclusive, even if they are being framed that way. This is particularly true in this case.

I've struggled with my decision to write and post this commentary since this became a matter of national public discourse. I've taken special care to measure my words and temper my use of rhetoric; however, I can't ignore the fact that we appear to be heading down the same path as have other nations in the past, albeit at a slower pace. In the end, I'd rather lose "friends" than betray my conscience by holding my tongue and silencing my heart. "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good [people] to do nothing."

Full debate, especially with those who disagree with me, is welcome if polite and respectful; abusive and personal attacks are not. Please focus on ideas, issues and actions, not the individuals involved with the discussion.

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James Reed

Love has EVERYTHING to do with it, all you need is love!

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