The following is an opinion piece by PoliticusUSA co-publisher Sarah Jones.
OK, bear with me here.
Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) said on Thursday that while National Football League players’ protests are constitutionally protected free speech, their decision to kneel while the national anthem played at games was “misguided.”
“Clearly people have a right to express themselves,” Ryan told reporters at a news conference. But doing so in front of the U.S. flag, “it looks like you’re protesting against the ideals of America… I think it’s misguided.”
Wait a minute. There’s something very wrong with Ryan weighing in on this and using his power in government to try to silence free speech, and qualifying that with acknowledging their right doesn’t mitigate from the chilling impact of such a powerful person in government shaming the players’ criticism of government.
There is no criticism of the U.S. government, which is the protected speech, that can’t be interpreted by those in power as criticism of our “ideals,” although it is certainly not our “ideals” to treat black people differently under the law, and it is easy to question if Paul Ryan will regret his choice of words.
The ironic part here is the players might not have had the right to “free speech” rights to start off with while at work. They are employed privately and their employers could theoretically say they don’t want the players to kneel on their dime. The employers have not done this, however.
The President then used the bully pulpit to try to get these players fired, and that is when their free speech became a guarantee under the Constitution because the President is not supposed to silence free speech.
It could be argued that calling the player a “son of a bitch” and saying they should be fired WHILE PRESIDENT is itself a violation of the players’ free speech.
So, what started off as not a done deal matter of free speech (there could be arguments made that the because the stadiums are publicly funded or taxpayer owned, or the players are protesting the government, or they are public figures, their speech is protected from the get go) is now a done deal, thanks to Donald Trump.
And now Speaker Ryan has added to this assault on free speech by using his power as the third in line for the presidency and Speaker of the House to try to shame the NFL players into silence.
Paul Ryan is demeaning free speech when he says it looks like protesters are “protesting against the ideals of America”. Hello, that is exactly what the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights protects – the criticism of our government.
Paul Ryan should not be using his position in government to criticize peaceful protests of any kind.
This is not the same thing as making a comment about people breaking the law while protesting, of course.
The Republican Speaker is trying to win favor with Donald Trump by siding against a fundamental freedom and using the power of his position IN GOVERNMENT to do so.
These players are specifically criticizing their government. They have the right to do that, and Speaker Paul Ryan should not be using his position of great power to try to shame them into silence.
Ms. Jones is the co-founder/ editor-in-chief of PoliticusUSA and a member of the White House press pool.
Sarah hosts Politicus News and co-hosts Politicus Radio. Her analysis has been featured on several national radio, television news programs and talk shows, and print outlets including Stateside with David Shuster, as well as The Washington Post, The Atlantic Wire, CNN, MSNBC, The Week, The Hollywood Reporter, and more.
Sarah is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.
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