NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — East Tennessee State University basketball players took a knee during the National Anthem at a game to address racial injustice, and now a group of lawmakers wants to keep it from happening again.
Many believe taking a knee disrespects our country and those who died defending it, including several Tennessee lawmakers. A group of Tennessee Republicans sent a letter to public universities asking them to prohibit the act of kneeling during the anthem.
Lipscomb University constitutional law expert Dr. Susan Turney Haynes says the situation is tricky.
"This particular situation has a lot of first amendment implications," Haynes said. "The letter calls them ‘ambassadors’ right? Ambassadors of the university and therefore ambassadors of the state and then that gets complicated - to say that they are public actors and therefore representing the government in effect."
Members of the Senate Democratic Caucus issued a statement saying students have the right to express their opinions, and shouldn't stand in the way of free speech:
“Our public colleges and universities should be a safe place for students to express themselves and advocate peacefully for change in our country without interference from the legislature or university administrators. In fact, student organizing on college campuses is a perfect reflection of the American values embedded in our First Amendment. Rather than silencing the voices of students who are peacefully bringing attention to injustice in our country, we should all be working together to address the inequities that brought them to a knee.”
Haynes said, "This is something that is kind of ripe for a legal challenge to be honest because while the NFL cases and etc. are kind of open and shut, this gets us into mirky constitutional waters."
Dr. Haynes said the Supreme Court has ruled that students have protections. "But once they put on that uniform, get on the court, get on the field, and represent collegiate student-athlete, there’s no court precedent to suggest that they shed their constitutional rights at that point.”
Governor Bill Lee also addressed the topic. He said, "I think that the national anthem is a great opportunity for Americans to participate in something that's unifying. I think it's deeply unfortunate and disappointing to take that moment to protest. It creates divisiveness in the midst of a time that ought to be unifying.”
It's unclear how colleges will respond to the letter. The ACLU issued a statement about it here.