By FRANK CERVANTES
A small number of students knelt during the national anthem at the Homecoming pep rally and football game last Thursday in the midst of the controversial National Football League (NFL) protests against recent condemnation by President Donald Trump.
Students who knelt reported mixed responses from the student body and faculty members, receiving either support or criticism for their actions.
“Everyone stands before that flag while the national anthem is playing for different reasons,” Pailani Ledbetter (Sr.) said. “I kneel for all of the colors represented in this country, and at this school. No one should ever ridicule anyone on a peaceful protest.”
Unlike at private institutions, students at public schools are afforded a high degree of protection under the First Amendment.
However there are certain circumstances in which a student does not fully enjoy First Amendment protections, such as when serving in a student government capacity.
“Students [who] are doing things solely because they are in position to do so are limited to what [they] can say or do in that situation because then [they’d] be abusing the privilege and opportunity of the position,” Principal Kevin Astor (Admin.) said.
For example, ASB Spirit and Rally Commissioner Douglas Sun (Jr.) was among those who knelt at the Homecoming Game.
“It’s been a very eye-opening experience,” Sun said. “I received a lot of support, but the same thing the opposite way.
“Thankfully all the threats have just been threats and nothing happened the following days at school.”
Some students protested with political expression as their motivation.
Rishan Ephrem (Jr.), who organized a small group of students to kneel when the National Anthem was played at the pep rally, in protest of racial discrimination and police brutality across the nation, was one of them.
“I’m very passionate about the Black Lives Matter movement and I thought this was the perfect opportunity to voice my opinion and any others at Uni who feel misrepresented,” Ephrem said. “I fully believe that students are allowed to disagree and people are allowed to have their own opinions.”
No football players knelt during the game in protest of the anthem. However some sat while the song was being played.
“None of us planned to kneel. Some sat, but I’m pretty sure if we chose to kneel [Coach Cunningham (Athletics Dept.)] would not mind,” Varsity Cornerback and Running Back Ethan Vo (Sr.) said.
“My dad’s a veteran, [who spent] twenty years in the military, and he said he fought for our right to stand or kneel.”
The rights of students to freely express their beliefs on school grounds are protected by the landmark 1969 Supreme Court case, Tinker v Des Moines.
After two students wore black armbands to school in protest against the Vietnam War, the court ruled in favor of the students, deciding that “in the absence of a specific showing of constitutionally valid reasons to regulate [students’] speech, students are entitled to freedom of expression of their views.”
None of the protesters will face consequences for their actions as they did not “substantially disrupt” regular school activities.
However complaints of harassment made by the protesters will be taken seriously by the administration.
“If a student feels either that they were treated unfairly or if they are confused about what the expectations are they need to come talk to us,” Astor said.
“In the end, [students] may not agree with our policies or our expectations but they should walk away with clarity on what we believe…because obviously they’re always free to disagree with those expectations.”
Tinker also established the “substantial disruption” standard.
“We have parameters and expectations [and] we have codes of conduct if it is happening [at UHS or during school events],” Astor said.
“And generally the rule of thumb is unless they disrupt the process or program of school or marginalize a specific group in a negative way, [their behavior will be tolerated].”
However, not all students agree with their peers’ decision to kneel during the national anthem.
“As someone who hopes to serve in the United States Air Force, I take great pride in what we have in this country,” Joseph Nagy (Sr.) said.
“You stand in respect to those that died in the hopes to defend the country and those that call themselves American. You disrespect my flag, you disrespect my family and what I myself stand for as a man of God and a man under the stars and stripes.”
The protesting of the anthem continues to foster conflicting responses, from UHS’s administration to schools across the nation.
According to the New York Times, The Catholic Diocese of Rockville Centre, which operates three private high schools in Long Island, “threatened to punish” any student who knelt during the anthem with suspension from the activity.
As a private school, students’ First Amendment protections do not apply.
Additionally, the Superintendent of the Louisiana Bossier Parish School District stated in an interview with the New York Times, participation in extracurricular activities is “not a right”, and “that our teams and organizations should stand in unity to honor our nation’s military and veterans.”
The school district is currently being sued by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Louisiana.
The protest reached its apex when NFL players and coaches from multiple teams knelt or locked arms in support of their peers on Sunday, October 1.
This cycle of protests initially began last year when 49ers Quarterback Colin Kaepernick knelt in protest of racial inequality across America.
The protests picked up steam after the President released several comments earlier last week degrading players who kneeled in protest and calling on NFL coaches to “fire or suspend” players who didn’t comply.
Contributions made by Sabrina Huang