Tennessee Legislators Urge Schools to Punish Kneeling Athletes

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Tennessee Legislators Urge Schools to Punish Kneeling Athletes

Some Tennessee legislators are upset that student athletes are kneeling during the national anthem. They want the state's universities to punish those students who do, prompting concerns about the athletes' First Amendment rights.


Last week, students from East Tennessee State University kneeled during the national anthem before a game at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. These students said they did so to protest racial inequality, but legislators say that the action was disrespectful. 


This week, every Republican senator in the Tennessee legislature signed a letter asking the state's university presidents to adopt policies that would prevent such actions. They argued that the students were representing their schools and the people of Tennessee, so the school should ensure they do not kneel during the national anthem. 


Lawyers, however, contend that any action to restrict the ability of students to protest would run afoul of the First Amendment. As public schools, state universities are restricted by the Constitution in how they infringe upon the free speech rights of students.


Given the constitutional issues, it is unlikely that any of Tennessee's universities will act in ways that will restrict student protests. It remains to be seen how legislators will react if no action occurs.


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