Colin Kaepernick took to one knee during the pregame singing of the national anthem when he played for the San Francisco 49ers in a football game played before the 2016 US election to protest police violence against blacks. Since then, the controversy surrounding Kaepernick’s action has simmered before recently exploding.
For people of faith two elements of any response are clear and a third regrettably muddled.
First, people of faith know that forced religion is false religion. Similarly, forced patriotism is false patriotism. Symbolically honoring the US by standing during the national anthem is meaningless unless done voluntarily. Furthermore, hypocrisy never advances a cause.
Second, people of faith know that blind, unquestioning faith is tantamount to idolatry. Similarly, blind patriotism is tantamount to making an idol out of the object of one’s patriotism. Additionally, free speech and free expression, key components of personal freedom enshrined into law by the US Constitution, are meaningless if one cannot dissent in powerful, symbolic ways. Such means include choosing to kneel rather than to stand during the national anthem, an act akin to flag burning, which the Supreme Court has adjudged protected speech.
The spreading protest ignited by Kaepernick’s action has, however, muddled the issue of exactly what the symbolic action means. Is it a protest against the unjust treatment of blacks by some police officers (the hugely disproportionate number of blacks killed by police officers constitutes prima facie evidence for the claim of unjust treatment)? Is it an attempt to claim what Civil Rights advocated including the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., saw as the promise of equal rights for all? Is taking a knee and standing with linked arms an effort to stand unified with those who protest, unified in affirming their first amendment rights, or something else?
I for one am unsure what the continuing protests mean. However, I stand united with protests against the continuing racism in the US; I stand united in defense of the first amendment; and I stand united with those who are proud to be US citizens but who also know that the path to true greatness lies in continuing progress toward justice rather than in blind patriotism. This, I believe, is a path that people of faith can and should walk, linking their deepest held religious beliefs with their incidental identity as a citizen of a particular country.