Thu. Jun 13th, 2024

Forced patriotism, whether in Hong Kong or Louisiana, is no patriotism at all

Samantha Parker By Samantha Parker Jun9,2024

On April 10, a 21-year-old man went on trial for the crime of insulting China’s national anthem while he attended a volleyball game between China and Bulgaria in Hong Kong last year. He sat during the anthem, with his hands covering his ears, and at one point instead sang, “Do You Hear the People Sing,” a famous anthem from the musical “Les Miserables.” 

He was reportedly filmed by an off-duty chief inspector, apparently eager to catch an unaware civilian engaged in the criminal act of expressing a political opinion disfavored by his government. One officer who testified against the man alleged that he had also made a thumbs-down motion when China’s team scored and, when he was arrested, admitted that he “does not like the China team and the Chinese anthem.”

This prosecution, and intensifying efforts to silence political expression in Hong Kong in recent years, may have the effect of ensuring compliance, by force, with public displays of respect and support for the governments of Hong Kong and China. But the patriotism that state officials in Hong Kong compel will be false — a thin veneer of respect, papered over citizens’ very real feelings of resentment, discontent and anger directed at their leaders.

The U.S., with its strong protections for freedom of expression and against compelled speech, would not make the same mistake today. Right?

Unfortunately, the right to express dissatisfaction with the U.S. government through expressive protests against its national symbols remains contested. Although Supreme Court precedent has made clear for decades that government cannot force citizens to recite its pledge of allegiance or punish them for disrespecting its flag, attacks against those rights persist.

Just consider the latest developments out of Louisiana, where Gov. Jeff Landry (R) is pressuring state colleges to mandate “that student athletes be present for the national anthem or risk their athletic scholarship.” Landry’s statement was prompted by the absence of Louisiana State University’s women’s basketball team and coaches during the pregame anthem ahead of their Elite Eight game against the University of Iowa.

In a letter to LSU’s Board of Advisors, Landry argued that “there should be no question about the university’s respect for our country,” and a threat of revoked scholarships would ensure student athletes learn “respect” for America’s flag and anthem.

For the record, LSU head coach Kim Mulkey rejected insinuations that the absence was a political statement, instead clarifying that the team was conducting its normal game preparations and wasn’t aware of when the anthem would be played.

And in response, LSU’s athletic director wrote that the university “will always be dedicated to the flag, the anthem and the country” and “consistently look[s] at our processes and will do so again” in light of Landry’s letter.

But even setting this point aside, Landry’s missive is wrong on multiple grounds. Such an effort will teach students and student athletes that patriotism is a response to threats and punishments, rather than a sincere, voluntary sense of love and duty toward one’s country. Worse, it makes the same mistake that so many officials have made before about the rights that the First Amendment preserves and the limits it places on government bodies.

In short, American jurisprudence protects Americans against such forced displays of patriotism, even at the expense of subjecting the anthem and the flag to potential irreverence and disrespect.

As my organization reminded LSU this month by letter, public universities are bound by the First Amendment, which means they are barred from compelling students to express any ideology against their will and cannot impose government officials’ personal beliefs on student athletes.

The Supreme Court ruled in 1943 that public schools could not force their students to participate in the pledge of allegiance, asserting the importance of citizens’ freedom of conscience against compulsion by the state. But the court didn’t just affirm the freedom against such incursions — it also laid waste to the notions supporting them in the first place.

“To believe that patriotism will not flourish if patriotic ceremonies are voluntary and spontaneous, instead of a compulsory routine,” the justices explained, “is to make an unflattering estimate of the appeal of our institutions to free minds.”

The greatest respect that officials can show to our national symbols is to trust that they will be honored through choice. Whether in Hong Kong or in Louisiana, forced patriotism is no patriotism at all.

Sarah McLaughlin is a senior scholar in global expression at the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression.

Samantha Parker

By Samantha Parker

Samantha is a seasoned journalist with a passion for uncovering the truth behind the headlines. With years of experience in investigative reporting, she has covered a wide range of topics including politics, crime, and entertainment. Her in-depth analysis and commitment to factual accuracy make her a respected voice in the field of journalism.

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2 thoughts on “Forced patriotism, whether in Hong Kong or Louisiana, is no patriotism at all”
  1. Forcing patriotism upon individuals, whether in Hong Kong or Louisiana, is ineffective and contradictory to the essence of true patriotism. Citizens should have the freedom to express their opinions and feelings towards their government without fear of punishment or coercion. This kind of prosecution only serves to create a facade of loyalty, masking the deep-seated resentment and discontent that many people harbor towards their leaders. The U.S., with its strong safeguards for freedom of expression, would not fall into the same trap. The right to peacefully dissent and protest against the government is a fundamental element of democracy that should be upheld and protected.

  2. Forcing patriotism on individuals, whether in Hong Kong or Louisiana, undermines the very essence of true patriotism. People should have the freedom to express their opinions and feelings towards their government without fear of persecution or forced compliance. It’s crucial to uphold and protect the right to dissent as a fundamental aspect of democracy.

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