Rand Paul

Roy Moore Says Kneeling for the Anthem Is Illegal, and He's Totally Wrong

Libertarian-leaning Republicans who endorsed Moore should hang their heads in shame


Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Newscom

Roy Moore, the Republican candidate currently running for Attorney General Jeff Sessions' old Alabama Senate seat, is very mixed up about free speech.

The former judge—who was twice removed from office for his conservative culture war agenda, contrary to the law—told TIME magazine that NFL players who kneel during the national anthem are actually breaking the law.

"It's against the law, you know that?" said Moore. "It was a act of Congress that every man stand and put their hand over their heart. That's the law."

It isn't. That's completely wrong, actually.

Moore is probably referring to a section of the U.S. code that recommends standing for the national anthem, removing headgear, and placing one's hand over one's heart. But the code does not require people to do this, and if it did, the Supreme Court would undoubtedly strike it down.

"It's not clear to me that 36 U.S.C. 301 was ever meant to be legally binding — it says what people 'should' do rather than what they 'shall' or 'must' do," Eugene Volokh, a University of California-Los Angeles law professor and blogger at The Washington Post, told CBS. "But if it did aim at being legally binding, the First Amendment would prevent it from being enforced."

The First Amendment extends free speech rights to all Americans. The government cannot compel people to salute the flag or stand for the national anthem—at school events, national football games, or anywhere else. That Moore wrongly believes otherwise is just one more reason to strenuously oppose his candidacy.

It's a terrible shame so many Republicans who claim to be libertarian-inclined—including Sens. Rand Paul and Mike Lee—have endorsed Moore, despite his genuinely awful views. In his endorsement, Paul claimed "we need more people in Washington, D.C .that will stand on principle and defend the Constitution." On this basis alone, Moore's contempt for the principles of the First Amendment are obviously disqualifying.

President Trump is already working overtime to undermine the Constitution's robust protections for freedom of speech. Sending a like-minded, theocratic mini-Trump to Congress to aid this cause seems like a terrible plan, and one self-described libertarians should vigorously oppose.