Over the past year, I have encountered many opinions from people who are outraged that NFL players would peacefully protest inequality in America by “disrespecting” the American flag and our National Anthem. The flag and the anthem are prominent symbols of our country. But there are other symbols of our country that also demand our respect.

Freedom of speech is the most important liberty that all American citizens enjoy. I consider a free press and all peaceful protests in this country to be important symbols of our democracy. I believe that these symbols need to be respected, and defended, if we want our freedoms as citizens to endure. No American citizen should attempt to limit, or otherwise suppress, another American citizen’s First Amendment right to peacefully protest.

I would like you to consider the quote below from the 1995 movie “The American President”. President Andrew Shepherd (played by Michael Douglas) presents an argument in defense of our right to protest.

“America isn't easy. America is advanced citizenship. You gotta want it bad, 'cause it's gonna put up a fight. It's gonna say "You want free speech? Let's see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who's standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours. You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country can't just be a flag; the symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. Then, you can stand up and sing about the land of the free."

Richard Patterson

Hampton, Illinois