President Donald Trump spent the weekend referring to athletes who protest during the national anthem as disrespectful and unpatriotic, calling them sons of bitches who should lose their jobs.
“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘get that son of a bitch off the field right now, he’s fired?’” Trump said Friday during a rally in Huntsville, Alabama.
Since then, the president has fired off tweets doubling down on his outrage.
What Trump seems to be ignoring is that part of what the “great American Flag” represents is the First Amendment’s protection of free speech. It’s a point that his favorite Supreme Court justice, the late Antonin Scalia ― known as one of the most conservative voices on the court ― understood.
“If I were king, I would not allow people to go around burning the American flag,” Scalia told CNN in 2012. “However, we have a First Amendment, which says that the right of free speech shall not be abridged ― and it is addressed in particular to speech critical of the government. That was the main kind of speech that tyrants would seek to suppress.”
In both 1989 and 1990, the Supreme Court upheld the right to burn the American flag in protest. Scalia’s comments, and the Supreme Court cases, specifically addressed whether the government ― rather than private enterprises ― can outlaw flag protests. Trump received almost no support from NFL coaches and owners over the weekend.
The athletes who have been targeted by Trump haven’t burned the flag; they have silently taken a knee or sat out participating in the national anthem as a way to address racial discrimination and police brutality. Then-San Fransisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick started the protests last year.
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