You see, when teaching U.S. History and U.S. Government, I always covered the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the rest of the Amendments. I used many primary sources to teach the subject: minutes of the meetings and conventions, Federalist Papers, letters and notes from one founder to another, and memoirs written by those men involved in the drafting of those extraordinary documents.
My students spent a little extra time on the First Amendment because when one looks at those primary sources, it becomes clear that our nation's founders considered the First Amendment to be the most important amendment to the U.S. Constitution. And when you think about it ... without the First Amendment, the rest mean nothing! Really ... without the First Amendment, the rest are useless! In case anyone needs a reminder:
Amendment ICongress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
Religion, Speech, Press, Assembly and Petition. Interpretation of this amendment is far from easy, as court case after court case has tried to define the limits of these freedoms. Example: Your free speech rights don't give you the right to yell, "Fire!" in a crowded theater because that endangers the lives and safety of others. Example: Burning your American flag is not a crime because the flag is a symbol of freedom, not freedom itself.
And all of this brings me to the current controversy surrounding some NFL players who are petitioning their government (yes, that's exactly what they are doing) by kneeling during the National Anthem. They are protesting the social injustice that exists in America. This country's president made their protest a cause celebre because his approval numbers are way down and he needs his supporters to chant his name. So he changed the narrative, claiming the protest is against the flag, the National Anthem, the military and who knows what else ... maybe even apple pie and the iPhone. And his supporters bought it - hook, line and sinker.
Then the Vice-President spent a few minutes at an NFL game and walked out in protest when some NFL players took a knee. That little display of "patriotism" cost taxpayers about $242,000 and had been staged prior to the trip.
And today, the NFL commissioner asked all NFL teams to stand during the National Anthem with a namby-pamby statement of unity, blah, blah, blah. It is interesting to note that the commissioner's statement comes after the president threatened to yank the NFL's tax-exempt status. Can the president actually do that on his own? I don't know.
But what I do know is that my former students have just witnessed the president, vice-president, NFL commissioner and probably some of their friends, co-workers and family members ... all take nasty jabs at the First Amendment, just more attempts to tear it apart. I'm sure those young people are wondering why I made such a big deal about the importance of that amendment ... not only to our country, but to their individual lives.
And they might think I lied to them. When I look around at the angry faces of people who are more than willing to chip away at the First Amendment ... well, maybe I did lie.