Do employers have the right to force their employees to participate in ritual displays of patriotism?
Many people think they do. Many people think that owners of football teams have the right to make their players stand at attention during the National Anthem.
But if bosses can require their employees stand for the anthem, then what's to stop them from making them say a prayer too? It's the same thing, isn't it? In both cases, employees are being compelled to conform to behavior that may or may not be consistent with their own beliefs. How does that square with the First amendment or is that rule no longer applicable?
Here's how the Supreme Court came down on the matter:
"The constitutionally guaranteed 'freedom to be intellectually... diverse or even contrary,' and the 'right to differ as to things that touch the heart of the existing order,' encompass the freedom to express publicly one's opinions about our flag, including those opinions which are defiant or contemptuous." ~~ Supreme Court of the United States in Street v. New York(1969)
Of course, that doesn't explain whether employees have the right to express their beliefs freely in the workplace or not. That's an entirely different question, and it's one that has been answered differently by the owners and the players union. According to MSN News:
"A labor union that represents workers in Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana has filed a charge alleging that Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has violated the National Labor Relations Act with his threats to discipline players if they protest during the national anthem. Local 100 of the United Labor Unions filed the complaint Tuesday with the Fort Worth, Texas, office of the National Labor Relations Board. It asks the NLRB to 'investigate preemptively in order to prevent illegal firings of players.'"
Wade Rathke, chief organizer of Local 100, accuses Jones of violating the act, which prohibits employers from intimidating or threatening workers for their "concerted activity."
Rathke said the NFL has already established that there is no condition of work that requires players to stand during the anthem. He said players have the right to protest and act concertedly at their workplace -- the playing field. Jones is violating the act by attempting to prevent them from doing so, he said. ("Labor union files complaint against Jerry Jones over anthem threat," MSN News)
"You can't discipline somebody for something that is a right they have under the law, whether that discipline be termination or benching or giving a slap on the wrist or writing up in their files they've been a bad boy," Rathke told ESPN. "I know in the modern age people think workers shouldn't have rights, but they still do."
Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones takes an entirely different approach. He not only thinks he is well within his rights to require his players to stand during the anthem, he also cites an arcane excerpt from the NFL Game Operations Manual which appears to support his position. Here's the excerpt:
"The National Anthem must be played prior to every NFL game, and all players must be on the sidelines for the National Anthem. During the National Anthem, players on the field and bench area should stand at attention, facing the flag, hold helmets in the left hand, and refrain from talking. The home team should make sure that the American flag is in good condition. It should be pointed out to players and coaches that we continue to be judged by the public in this area of respect for the flag and our country. Failure to be on the field by the start of the National Anthem may result in discipline, such as fines suspensions and/or the forfeiture of draft choice(s), for violations of the above, including first offenses."
Jones had the above quote in mind when he lowered the boom on his players on Monday saying, "If there is anything disrespecting the flag, then we will not play. Period. We're going to respect the flag and I'm going to create the perception of it." Jones also added that "there are no exceptions to this rule or this policy. Any player who disrespects the flag or does not stand for the anthem will not play in the game."
So that's that. The battle lines have been drawn and both sides are digging in. No matter how you cut it, there's going to be a clash.