Tuesday, March 18, 2008

A Matter Of Free Speech Or Simple Disrespect?

Should individuals who refuse to stand for the playing of the National Anthem ever be asked to leave a sport event that's being held on public property? That's exactly what is alleged to have happened at one Connecticut high school:
Two spectators at a high school basketball game are considering legal action after they say they were kicked off the court for not standing up for the National Anthem.

The incident happened last week at New Britain High School during the Class-S basketball tournament between Bloomfield and Old Saybrook.

Jeffrey Green and Aaron Johnson say their First Amendment rights were violated after they did not stand for the National Anthem and were subsequently asked to leave the premises.

"We wasn't moving at first. We was asking why, why you kicking us out? We want to know why and he said, 'Cause of the National Anthem,'" explained Jeffrey Green of New Haven.

The men say Lenny Corto, New Britain's athletic director, asked them to leave the game.

Johnson has been an assistant coach at the Hyde Leadership School in Hamden for six years. He says when working games, he does stand for the National Anthem but says, "Being a spectator and being on my own time, at times, I don't stand up."

And they don't have to. According to their lawyer, kicking them out is a violation of their free speech and like it or not, the Constitution protects their right not to stand.

"I think the expectation is to stand but I think everybody has a right if they want to stand or not," Johnson said.

And he says, the athletic director singled them out.

"In order to get to us, he had to go over about four or five rows that had fans in there that weren't standing up," Johnson explained.

Police were called to the scene and the men eventually left with their wives. The school did refund their money for the game but refused to allow them back inside.

News Channel 8 tried to talk to the principal of New Britain High School for comment, but we were referred to the superintendent who has not returned our phone call.

The men's attorney says they want an apology and want to see the athletic director disciplined.
Certainly, the two individuals had a right not to stand for the playing of our National Anthem.

And it's highly unlikely that Athletic Director Lenny Corto had any legal basis for expelling the two men from the gym.

But, regardless of their political views and personal agendas, was it an acceptable thing for these two men to do when at least one of them (Johnson) is a public school employee (of a nearby district) and they are in the presence of school-age children while on school property?