EDITORIAL: It may not be popular, but West York makes right call on kneeling during anthem

York Dispatch
  • Kneeling during the national anthem has become a hot-button issue nationally.
  • West York Area School District considered punishing student-athletes for kneeling during the anthem.
  • The school district, however, ultimately decided against such a punishment.

The popular decision is not always the right decision.

Officials from the West York Area School District, after some vigorous discussion, have apparently come to that proper realization.

West York's Corey Wise passes the ball earlier this season against Governor Mifflin. Some Bulldog players considered kneeling during the national anthem before a recent game against Kennard-Dale. The players ultimately did not kneel, but that possibility sparked a school-board discussion about whether kneeling during the national anthem should be permitted.

That’s why the district’s acting superintendent, Patricia Sanker, has announced there would be “no consequences” for student-athletes who kneel during the national anthem.

The determination on the decidedly hot-button issue may not be popular with most of the taxpayers in the school district.

Still, it’s the right call.

Under our Constitution, all of us, including student-athletes, are guaranteed the right to self-expression.

A government agency — and a public school district is most certainly an arm of the government — can’t deny anyone that First Amendment right.

The discussion in West York started after some high school football players contemplated kneeling during the national anthem before a recent game. Ultimately, the players didn’t kneel, but instead stood arm-in-arm before a Sept. 29 contest vs. Kennard-Dale.

School board meeting: Still, the idea that a student-athlete might kneel during the anthem at a future game sparked a robust dialogue at a school board meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 10, about whether new language should be added to the student code of conduct to prohibit such actions in the future

Board vice president Todd Gettys believed that kneeling during the national anthem was “unacceptable” and a “bad representation” for the school and should come with “consequences.”

UPDATED: 'No consequences' for West York students 'taking a knee'

Solicitor weighs in: After some back and forth, the district’s solicitor, Jeffrey Litts, weighed in on the issue.

His assessment was definitive, and on point.

“So long as students are silent and nondisruptive, if they want to take a knee during the national anthem, they have a First Amendment right to do it,” he said.

Litts cited legal precedent for his opinion and also offered a grim warning that any effort to take disciplinary action against a kneeling student would open the school district to a civil lawsuit and writing a “big fat check” for attorneys’ fees from the American Civil Liberties Union.

Not surprisingly, the deputy legal director of the ACLU in Pennsylvania agreed with Litts.

“It sounds like the solicitor knows what he’s talking about,” Mary Catherine Roper said.

Swift impact: The possibility of a costly lawsuit apparently made a swift impact.

Two days after the school board meeting, Sanker said: “We were advised by the solicitor that it would be against the First Amendment. So we will not be doing that. … There will be no consequences for taking a knee.”

In a conservative and patriotic region, such as York County, that decision will almost certainly not be a popular one.

Most folks in these parts take respect for the flag very seriously. That's a fine thing.

However, those same people must realize that the flag is a symbol of our Constitution —- a document that we must constantly and vigilantly defend.

Most especially when it protects an idea that is not popular.