NJ Catholic district first to ban national anthem protests by student players
CAMDEN — At least one school district in New Jersey has a clear cut policy about the national anthem: stand up or you'll be suspended.
Before the new school year started, fresh off San Francisco 49er Colin Kaepernick taking a knee during the pre-season, Diocese of Camden school superintendent Mary Boyle sent a letter to student athletes that refusal to stand during the national anthem would result in a two-game suspension.
"Our schools are founded on the teaching of respect and honor; respect and honor for God, country and duly appointed authority. It is expected that our administration and coaches as well as our athletes will show respect during prayer, pledges and the playing or singing of the National Anthem," Boyle's letter read.
Students in public schools, however, are protected by the First Amendment right to free speech and a policy forcing them to stand during the national anthem would not be constitutional, civil liberties advocates said.
The players and coach for a public Camden high school team last week kneeled for the anthem. In response to questions from the media, the district said anyone's decision of whether to stand was a personal issue.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, a private school is not a government entity and can establish a policy like the Camden diocese's.
"They have a much wider range to enact regulations over student conduct and expression,” Jeanne LoCicero said.
Camden Diocese spokesman Michael Wright said the letter was a "precautionary notice" following Kaepernick's action.
"In our Catholic schools, students and parents are advised via policy handbooks that school administrations have the authority to take action when students behavior is harmful to the good order of the school or its religious mission," Wright said.
Erin Friedlander, spokeswoman for the Diocese of Metuchen, said such a policy is not in effect nor under consideration. Michael Wolfthal, athletic director at Bishop Ahr in Edison said that he plans to speak with his his coaching staff about putting a policy in place.
Archdiocese of Newark spokesman James Goodness said they did not have a similar policy in effect. The Diocese of Trenton did not return messages seeking comment.
Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com.