Kneeling refund bill should stay on bench

Milo Smith
Milo Smith

The issue of professional sports athletes kneeling during the playing of the “Star-Spangled Banner” has raged for about two years, creating factions of supporters and opponents.

It started as a form of protest by former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick against police brutality and racial injustice. Many other NFL and other pro athletes have followed Kaepernick’s lead to highlight the same issues. However, opponents view the kneeling as a sign of disrespect against the country and those who serve it, such as military members, police and firefighters.

State Rep. Milo Smith, R-Columbus, is one of those opponents. He has taken a step to give people offended by the kneeling a form of recourse that he hopes will have an impact. Last week, Smith introduced House Bill 1011, which targets anti-patriotic displays.

The bill would allow an offended spectator at a professional sporting event in Indiana — namely a Colts, Pacers or Fever game — to request and receive a refund for their ticket if they felt offended by the kneeling of a player during the national anthem.

Smith’s bill was assigned to the House Judiciary Committee. House Speaker Brian Bosma has said it was likely that the bill would be allowed to die in this session of the Indiana General Assembly. He cited problems such as potential constitutional violations and possible illegal interference with private business.

We believe Bosma’s suggestion would be a good course of action to follow.

For starters, whether people like it or not, the protests professional athletes have done during the national anthem are protected as free speech. And free speech is guaranteed in the First Amendment.

President Donald Trump may not like that players take a knee during the national anthem, and he’s free to criticize them as he has done with tweets. But he can’t force them to stop.

Also, sports teams such as the Colts and Pacers are private businesses. Typically, private businesses have their own rules about refunds. The state telling a private business what it must issue a refund can aptly be described as government overreach. It’s a good bet that Colts owner Jim Irsay wouldn’t appreciate the state telling him he had to issue a refund to a person offended by the legal action of another person.

The American Civil Liberties Union’s Indiana director, Jane Henagar, said Smith’s bill is an attempt to use economic pressure to control the speech of private citizens. We would venture to say that no private citizen would want any form of government controlling what they can and can’t say.

Smith’s bill also creates a slippery slope. Should state lawmakers somehow pass this bill, and the governor signs it into law, it would set a bad precedent that could lead to other types of legislation affecting people’s rights.

The Indiana General Assembly is in its short session this year and has more pressing issues to tackle, such as the state’s opioid addiction problem. We think the best course of action for House Bill 1011 is to shelve it.

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