Officials with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Camden (N.J.) were seemingly ahead of the curve on the outbreak of high school players and coaches kneeling during the national anthem in light of the stance initially taken by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
In a Sept, 2 letter obtained by philly.com, the diocese told member schools that any player or coach who doesn’t “demonstrate appropriate respect” during the anthem could face a two-game suspension with additional penalties including dismissal from the team for subsequent incidents.
“We are not public institutions and free speech in all of its demonstrations, including protests, is not a guaranteed right,” Superintendent Mary Boyle wrote.
The diocese oversees several Catholic high schools in South Jersey but does not cover public schools such as Woodrow Wilson, where coaches and all but two players kneeled during the anthem before Saturday’s game. A district spokesman for Camden City schools said Sunday: “The District supports standing for the flag, but this is a personal issue, and we strongly respect our students’ experiences and their exercising our country’s First Amendment rights.”
Kelly Francis, in his 18th year as president of the NAACP’s Camden County Branch, disagreed with the idea of suspensions for a free-speech act.
“The president of the United States has stated (those who kneel) have a constitutional right to protest if they want to,” Francis told Gannett partner The Courier Post. “I don’t know why the diocese thinks they can go against the Constitution.
“They’re treading on dangerous ground, especially being a religious institution.”
In light of the recent controversy regarding the NFL player’s refusal to stand for the National Anthem, I seek to clarify the position of the Office of Catholic Schools. I ask that this be communicated to those listed above.
Our schools are founded on the teaching of respect and honor; respect and honor for God, country and duly appointed authority.
It is expected that our administration and coaches as well as our athletes will show respect during prayer, pledges and the playing or singing of the National Anthem.
The best approach is helping our young people understand that blood was sacrificed so that we all can enjoy the gifts of our faith and our country.
However, let me be clear. We are not public institutions and free speech in all of its demonstrations, including protests, is not a guaranteed right.
Failure to do demonstrate appropriate respect will result in suspension from play (2 games) or dismissal from the team for subsequent offenses.