click to enlarge The San Francisco 49ers' Colin Kaepernick, right, and Eric Reid kneel in protest during the national anthem prior to playing the Los Angeles Rams at Levi's Stadium on Sept. 12, 2016, in Santa Clara, California. - CREDIT: THEARON W. HENDERSON/GETTY IMAGES/TNS
Credit: Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images/TNS
The San Francisco 49ers' Colin Kaepernick, right, and Eric Reid kneel in protest during the national anthem prior to playing the Los Angeles Rams at Levi's Stadium on Sept. 12, 2016, in Santa Clara, California.

Our society has developed quite a bit of consternation over folks who kneel on football fields.

First there was quarterback Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the national anthem in protest of police brutality.

Then-President Donald Trump's response: "Get that son-of-a-bitch off the field."

Sigh.

On April 25, the U.S. Supreme Court heard the case of Joseph Kennedy, a Bremerton, Washington, high school football coach who was suspended from his job after repeatedly kneeling on the football field and praying after games. It made some school officials uncomfortable.

But here's the rub; the only speech worth defending is that which makes people uncomfortable.

Writers at the left-of-center publication Slate are wringing their hands over the prospect of a praying coach. They have conjured up some vast right-wing conspiracy that would turn public schools into religious indoctrination zones if the high court rules in Kennedy's favor.

While I do identify as an evangelical Christian, there is something about these types of public prayers that make me uneasy. I think of Jesus' admonition in the Book of Matthew: "And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you."

So, if someone were to ask me if I believe this is an effective way for Coach Kennedy to share his faith, I'd say "No." But if I were asked if he should be allowed to express himself in this way, I'd say, "Yes."

I feel much the same about Kaepernick. I personally can't see myself kneeling during the national anthem. But I fully acknowledge racism and brutality remain enormous problems in law enforcement. I've uncovered many such instances during the past 35 years.

That said, I support Kaepernick. He and other athletes should be able to peacefully petition their government in the manner they see fit.

Sadly, varying factions in our society on both the left and the right want to silence those they don't agree with. That approach is the antithesis of a free society.

When in doubt, side with free expression.

I began my journalism career covering the University of Texas Medical Branch for the Galveston Daily News. Shortly before I took over the beat, a university cop arrested a Muslim person for kneeling and praying on campus.

My reaction at the time was, that was stupid. Why would the government interfere with that man's ability to pray?

Some might say that the difference is that Coach Kennedy is in a position of authority, and his actions violate the separation of church and state.

But the problem with that argument is that we don't live in an antiseptic society. A math teacher wearing a yarmulke, a principal with an Ash Wednesday cross on his forehead or a history instructor donning a hijab also are expressing their faith in state-sanctioned environments.

Would we really want to prohibit such acts? I think not.

One anonymous athlete said he felt compelled to kneel with Kennedy because he feared if he didn't, he would lose playing time.

Virginia Tech University soccer player Kiersten Hening claims she was booted from the team last year when she refused to kneel during the national anthem.

No one should ever feel coerced to express themselves in a manner untrue to their conscience. But no one should be barred from freely expressing their beliefs, either.

Figuring out where to draw the line between the two, that's the hard part.

Scott Reeder, an Illinois Times staff writer, can be reached at sreeder@illinoistimes.com.

About The Author

Scott Reeder

Scott Reeder is a staff writer at Illinois Times.

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