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One Veteran’s Plea: Let’s Return to Respecting Our Flag

'We as a nation need to come together again,' argues this dedicated military man and father

I miss the good old days. Not my good old days — those were the 1980s and I don’t think anyone in their right mind misses the ’80s. No, I miss the days when America was a God-fearing nation, when Americans did crazy things like show respect for the flag. When did it become the norm for us to attack those who believe in God and idolize those who proverbially spit on our flag?

For anyone that has never seen it, I highly recommend watching the late comedian Robin Williams’ skit about the American flag. He does an amazing job of capturing not only the symbolism of the flag, but the beauty of what she represents. With everything I have seen on the news and social media lately, I think as a nation we need to have a follow-up lesson on what our country really represents to those who are repressed and shunned in this world.

Kaepernick stated, “At the end of the day the flag is just a piece of cloth and I am not going to value a piece of cloth over people’s lives.”

I would like to introduce you to Joe Kennedy, a former Marine who served his nation honorably, both at home and in war for 20 years. Upon retirement, he took a job with the Bremerton School District (in Washington State), coaching football as the JV head coach and varsity assistant coach. He held this job from 2008 until 2016, when he was let go. He lost his job because he had a habit of taking a knee on the 50-yard line after the games to say a brief prayer.

This started off as something he did alone, but soon the players began asking Coach Kennedy if they could join him. Eventually, as is the norm in America today, someone was offended by the prayer and sued the district. The district gave him a choice: either stop praying or be placed on administrative leave. He refused to comply and applied for a religious exemption to allow him to continue to pray. His exemption was denied, but he still refused to quit praying. He was placed on administrative leave for the remainder of the season and his contract was subsequently not renewed.

I personally agree with the basic view that religion has no place in the school officially. It is not the role of the school to teach religion, or lack thereof, to any student. But it is important to note that the First Amendment states very simply, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Considering how much public discourse there is on the topic of religion, one would figure that the U.S. Constitution would have pages devoted to the subject. Yet the only other mention of religion states that no government official will be subject to a religious test in accordance with their duties, but instead will swear their loyalty to the Constitution itself.

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I believe that every individual should be afforded the right to worship within the scope of his or her beliefs as long as it does not impose upon the rights or restrict the freedoms of other individuals.

It is now time to transition to another individual named Colin Kaepernick. He is much more of a common household name than that of Coach Kennedy. And why shouldn’t he be? Kaepernick’s college football career was very distinguished, and he set many Division I records. Then, in 2011, he was drafted to play quarterback by his childhood team, the 49ers. He served as backup for one year and in 2012 became the starting quarterback for his team. He had an absolutely stellar couple of years, until he lost his first-string position and was then out for a shoulder injury in 2015. However, none of this is what truly propelled him into the limelight.

Hard work, dedication, and integrity need to become the hallmarks of our American culture again.

In 2016, during a pre-season game, Kaepernick refused to stand during the playing of the national anthem. Instead, he chose to remain seated, stating, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” He also stated, “At the end of the day the flag is just a piece of cloth and I am not going to value a piece of cloth over people’s lives.”

Keeping true to his word, Kaepernick has yet to stand for the national anthem. He has now, in fact, switched from sitting to kneeling. I, of course, support his right to do so. As a United States Army veteran, I firmly believe in my oath to support the Constitution. That includes the First Amendment, which to me is the most important of all the amendments. This amendment promises freedom of religion, speech, and protest. I especially support this right when I find the words or actions to be most heinous, as it is that which we hate that must be protected at all cost.

Kaepernick’s views are not odious to me, but his actions are. Don’t get me wrong, I believe that his views are swayed by completely erroneous facts and intentional deceptions propagated by those on the Left side of the political spectrum. I can understand the premise that racism is bad. It’s true that, unfortunately, it does exist in America today. But I refuse to believe that the police are going around and killing or torturing black people as part of some institutionalized goal. Just as in the military, you are going to have that 2-5 percent of people in police departments who make it through training who are scum and not worthy to hold any position of power or authority. They are going to abuse and terrorize those whom they can, and it is up to all of us to call them out for it and prosecute them to the fullest extent possible.

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However, kneeling in prayer has been villainized — and kneeling in protest against the tangible essence of all the good that our nation represents has been turned into a noble act on par with sacrificing your life for a stranger.

When and how did this change occur? I am having a hard time not believing that the media is waging a war on Christianity. This includes mainstream media and blog posts alike. Example after example shows how the media condemned Coach Kennedy for exercising his First Amendment rights. There were posts that supported him as well, but many more chastised him. Yet what he did brought no disrespect to anyone, perceived or otherwise. He never asked for the players to join him in prayer, nor implied that he expected it from them. He prayed after the game, so it was not while he was coaching.

Yet in contrast, we adore and promote the idea of our athletes now taking a knee in protest against our flag and anthem. This phenomenon has spread far beyond Colin Kaepernick. There are all sorts of athletes, from football, to soccer, to high schools who are taking a knee. A singer even took a knee while singing our anthem. The media response has been overwhelmingly supportive.

Even the NFL is playing games with this by refusing to take a definitive stance. The statement issued by the NFL basically says, “We don’t necessarily agree, but it is their First Amendment right, so what can we do?”

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The NFL fines players for not wearing the right shoes and for putting unauthorized patches on uniforms. Why not simply tell players that as long as they are in uniform and on duty, they will not show disrespect toward our nation? While there is some gray area as to whether Coach Kennedy is on duty after the game, here there is no question.

It is time that we as a nation start to come together again. Firing someone for taking a knee in thanks and prayer while idolizing someone protesting the nation that gave them that right and ability is beyond nonsensical. In what direction are we headed as a nation? Everywhere we turn these days, there is a vilification and mockery of those who have religious moral principles. America, we need to wake up. Things like hard work, dedication, and integrity need to become the hallmarks of the American culture again.

It is time for us to re-instill a level of righteousness in our nation.

Matthew Wadler is a U.S. Army veteran and a senior OpsLens contributor. He served in the Army for 20 years as both enlisted and officer before retiring; his service includes time as military police, field artillery, adjutant general, and recruiting. His deployments include Somalia and two tours to Afghanistan. He holds a master’s degree in HR Management, and is a strong supporter of the Constitution and an advocate for the military and veteran communities. A version of this article originally appeared in OpsLens and is used by permission. 

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