The Catholic Diocese in Camden, New Jersey, warned its staff, coaches and student athletes on Sept. 2 that any protest during the national anthem is forbidden and that free speech rights do not extend to its schools.
According to the Courier-Post, Superintendent Mary P. Boyle sent out an email to school presidents, principals, athletic directors and coaches at the diocese' high schools -- Camden Catholic, Paul VI, Gloucester Catholic, St. Joseph, Wildwood Catholic and Holy Spirit -- that said:
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 demonstrate appropriate respect, will result in suspension from play (2 games) or dismissal from the team for subsequent offenses.
The email did not mention that some NFL players have been sitting or kneeling during the national anthem in protest of police brutality and discrimination against black people.
Kelly Francis, president of the NAACP's Camden County Branch, told the Courier-Post: "The president of the United States has stated [those who kneel] have a constitutional right to protest if they want to. 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."
On the secular side of town, members of the Woodrow Wilson Tigers football team and their coach chose to kneel during the national anthem before a game on Sept. 10.
"I am well aware of the third verse of the national anthem which is not usually sung, and I know that the words of the song were not originally meant to include people like me," Tigers coach Preston Brown told WCAU.
Brown was referring to a verse in the national anthem, not normally sung, which states: "No refuge could save the hireling and slave / From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave."
In response to the kneeling, Camden City School District spokesman Brendan Lowe said:
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. Whether our students choose to stand, kneel, or otherwise, we’re proud of their engagement with what is more broadly a very important social justice issue.