Jay Bookman

Opinion columnist and blogger with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, specializing in foreign relations, environmental and technology-related issues

This is still 'the land of the free', even in Cobb County

According to multiple eyewitnesses, Cobb County School Superintendent Chris Ragsdale told a leadership meeting last month that if student athletes in his district dared to kneel rather than stand during the playing of the national anthem, “their asses would be benched.”

I find that very interesting, for a number of reasons.

First, standing for the national anthem is supposed to be an act of patriotism. We do it because as Americans, we want to do it. It is a voluntary rather than mandatory act. However, if that act of patriotism is forced upon you by government, as Ragsdale apparently demands, then standing is stripped of its patriotic message. It then becomes an act of submission to a government edict, and that's something else entirely.

Second -- and correct me if I'm wrong here -- the lyrics of the "Star Spangled Banner" as written by Frances Scott Key more than two centuries ago celebrate our country as "the land of the free." It's the closing stanza of every verse of that song. So I'm curious about what part of "free" is not understood here. Do those lyrics not apply in Cobb County?

Third, Ragsdale's choice of words reflects an authoritarian fixation on control and compliance, on a suppression of speech that he personally finds offensive. That is not a role consistent with the position that he holds.

Finally, when government forces a person to stand when his or her conscience says to kneel, it's the same as a government that forces you to kneel in submission when your heart and conscience tell you to stand. There is no difference. And that contradicts every damn thing that this country and that song are supposed to be about.

Reader Comments ...

About the Author

Jay Bookman writes about government and politics, with an occasional foray into other aspects of life as time, space and opportunity allow.