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Hornberger's Blog is a daily libertarian blog written by Jacob G. Hornberger, founder and president of FFF.
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Abolish the National Anthem


It’s football season again, which means that the kneeling controversy is back. Two years ago, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick ignited a national controversy by kneeling during the singing of the national anthem before the start of a football game. He was protesting racial injustice in the United States, including the killing of African-Americans by white police officers.

The controversy generated heated, emotional reactions on both sides.

Some players sympathized with Kaepernick’s message and began following his lead by also kneeling during the national anthem. Many fans expressed admiration for Kaepernick for taken a courageous stand against racial injustice. Nike is now featuring Kaepernick in a major advertising campaign.

Other people were outraged over what they perceived as an insult to the national anthem and said that Kaepernick should be fired. Many fans began immediately leaving games when the kneeling started. Others began boycotting games. There are now people who are calling for a boycott of Nike for featuring Kaepernick in its advertising campaign.

As a private institution, the NFL has the right to run its affairs any way it wants. If the NFL says no kneeling by players during the national anthem, then that’s the way it is. Players must abide by the policy. If they don’t like it, they don’t have to play. The same goes for teams within the NFL. Every team must comply with the overall policy of the NFL organization. If fans disapprove, they are free to boycott the games.

By the same token, the NFL has the right to say that players are free to kneel during the national anthem. They also have the right to let each team owner make that determination for its team. If players don’t like the policy, they can decline to play, assuming their contract permits them to walk away. If their contract requires them to play, then they have the legal responsibility of playing even if they don’t like their team’s kneeling policy. Again, fans are free to express their disapproval through boycotts.

Regardless, the controversy is no business of the government. The issue is for the NFL and the rest of the private sector to resolve.

But here’s a possible solution to the controversy: The NFL could stop the national anthem from being sung at football games. In fact, while we are on the subject, it could also stop the militarism that has overtaken football games. For that matter, so could Major League Baseball and other sporting organizations.

Better yet, how about just having Congress repeal the law that brought about the adoption of the national anthem? At the same time, it could also repeal the law that made the Pledge of Allegiance a national pledge. Best of all, Congress could dismantle the entire Cold War-era national-security state apparatus, which many people have come to identify with the national anthem and the pledge of allegiance, and restore a limited-government republic to our land.

The national anthem reflects the sense of nationalism that captured the American people in the 20th century. From the founding of the republic in the late 1800s and throughout the 19th century, the American people didn’t have a national anthem. They also didn’t have a pledge of allegiance. That’s because an overarching identification with and love of “the nation” wasn’t important to them. What mattered to them was the concept of individual liberty.

Sure, we all know that the concept of liberty wasn’t practiced perfectly by any means. Slavery is certainly a testament to that, along with such things as tariffs and denial of voting rights for women. Nonetheless, what mattered to Americans generally was the concept of liberty rather than a love for the nation.

Thus, it wasn’t a coincidence was no Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, welfare, income tax, IRS, Federal Reserve, paper money, public schooling, minimum-wage laws, zoning, drug war, gun control, immigration controls, Pentagon, CIA, NSA, FBI, foreign interventionism, foreign military bases, and other aspects to what we call today the welfare-warfare state.

That all changed with the success of the progressive movement. As America began moving away from a free-market, free-enterprise, non-interventionist, limited-government society toward a welfare-state, managed-economy, imperialist way of life, Americans became increasingly nationalistic and militaristic, which they began conflating with the concept of “patriotism.”

Thus, it’s not a coincidence that until 1931 the United States didn’t have a national anthem. It was during the 1930s that the progressives succeeded in replacing the free-market, limited-government way of life that had characterized America for more than a century with a welfare-state, managed-economy way of life.

It’s also not a coincidence that the Pledge of Allegiance, which had been written by a socialist, was officially adopted by Congress as a pledge in 1942, in the midst of World War II. The latter part of the 1940s was when the federal government was converted into a full-fledged national-security state, which was characterized by a massive, permanent military-intelligence establishment that would come to play a dominant role in American society and in nations all over the world.

Thus, it’s not surprising that before the national anthem is sung at sporting events, members of the U.S. military march into the stadium carrying the American flag. People have come to conflate the two. In fact, many times it is a soldier or a military chorus that sings the anthem. And of course, there is inevitably the standard thanks and praise for “our men and women in uniform who are keeping us safe and defending our freedom” in faraway countries whose regimes have never invaded the United States or even threatened to do so.

But what do nationalism and militarism have to do with a sporting event? Nothing! It’s just a football game or a baseball game. The game has nothing to do with the nation, the government, or the people overseas that the government is killing as part of its imperialist escapades. What would be wrong with going to a football or baseball game just for the purpose of enjoying the game? Why is it necessary to bring nationalism, militarism, and imperialism into the event with the presentation of the flag, the singing of a national anthem, the pledge of allegiance, and the military? Why not just hold the game itself without all the other stuff?

With the national anthem gone, players would have less incentive to protest against governmental misconduct at what is nothing more than a sporting event. More important, abolishing the national anthem would be a major step away from nationalism, militarism, and welfare-statism and toward the restoration of a free-market, free-enterprise, non-interventionist, limited-government republic to our land.

This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.