The right to sit

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There’s been a bit of controversy about a number of professional athletes who have decided to sit or kneel during the National Anthem instead of standing in respect. Their example has filtered down into some high school and middle school athletic events.

As a veteran of the United States Marine Corps, as a graduate of a Georgia police academy, as a retired law enforcement chaplain of 25 years, and as a life-long citizen of this nation, I have a few things to say.

First of all, it is the right of every American to sit, stand, kneel, or sneer as they wish. This is not the former Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, Iran, North Korea, Cuba, China, or any of a number of nations where such disrespect would cost one’s freedom, if not their life.

Almost 1.4 million men and women have died for their right to publicly disrespect the flag and the nation those people died for. Another 1.5 million men and women have been wounded, some horribly, serving under that same flag. Another 41,000 military personnel are still missing in action and unaccounted for. All these gave their all so that some, who prosper under this flag, would have the right to sit, stand, kneel, or sneer as they wish.

I am fortunate to have had parents who loved this nation and to have had teachers who taught respect for the country and for the flag. From a small child, I learned that there was a proper way to show respect and that the proper way to dissent was normally at the ballot box.

As I grew older and entered athletics, particularly junior high and high school football, I was blessed to have coaches who expected their athletes to demonstrate respect during the playing or the singing of the National Anthem. To sit, to kneel, or to sneer was unthinkable.

As I enlisted in the Marine Corps, I learned a whole new history of service, sacrifice, honor, valor, and courage. This was the flag under which a divided nation was ultimately united. Under this banner, global aggression, tyranny, genocide, and butchery was defeated as the Axis powers were defeated by people fighting under that flag or the flag of another Allied power.

It was the flag that was raised over Iwo Jima. It was that flag that flew on the U.S.S. Missouri when Japan signed their surrender. It was this flag that was greeted with cheers by oppressed peoples through the world. Under this flag my father served, leaving rural Hawkins County, Tennessee, to serve as a seaman in that global conflict. Under that flag, my football teammate Marine Joe Meade died in Vietnam. As did Jimmy Jones, another high school friend.

I have no respect for those who sit, or kneel, or sneer. I have no real anger either. I am sorry that, somehow, they missed the reality that they are able to prosper because of those who served under that flag. Somehow, they failed to be taught the greatness (not the perfectness) of this nation. On Sept. 11, 2016, when a nation sorrowfully remembered the 15th anniversary of the 3,000 innocent people who perished because evil men and evil regimes launched an attack against this nation — while the rest of the nation placed flags on houses and graves, while flags all over the country were lowered to half staff — these few people choose to sit, or kneel, or sneer.

But it’s their right to do so. They are Americans. And millions of men and women, served, fought, bled, and died so that they could do what they wanted to do. Even if what they wanted to do was to sit, kneel, or sneer at the very people who won for them that right.

[David Epps is the pastor of Christ the King Church (www.ctkcec.org.). He is the bishop of the Diocese of the Mid-South, (www.midsouthdiocese.org) which consists of Georgia and Tennessee and is the associate endorser for his denomination’s military chaplains. He may be contacted at frepps@ctkcec.org.]