October 14, 2017

Main Content

Statement on Cheerleader Protests

Chancellor Carlo Montemagno

I have received a great deal of feedback following the decision by some of our cheerleaders to kneel during the national anthem during two home football games. Many say that students should not be allowed to disrespect the most important symbols of our country, especially while representing SIU.

I understand these views and am grateful to all of those who have reached out on both sides of a national concern that has found a voice at SIU.

I believe that, as a public university whose students, faculty and staff benefit from state and national support, SIU as an institution should encourage its stakeholders to show appropriate respect for two of our nation’s most important symbols.

But while we can encourage this respect, we cannot dictate it.

In fact, the two symbols that are the focus of these peaceful protests stand for one of our most important Constitutional rights: freedom of speech. We may not agree with how these students are choosing to make their statements, but we must morally and legally protect their right to make them.

Late Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia once said in an interview: “If I were king, I would not allow people to go around burning the American flag. However, we have a First Amendment which says that the right of free speech shall not be abridged -- and it is addressed in particular to speech critical of the government.”

He went on to say: “Burning the flag is a form of expression -- speech doesn’t just mean written words or oral words. Burning a flag is a symbol that expresses an idea. ‘I hate the government, the government is unjust,’ whatever.”

Taking a knee is also a symbolic expression of ideas – an expression made possible under the very rights our flag and national anthem stand for. For this reason, the university must allow our students the right to express themselves peacefully.

As an educational institution, we can help students find constructive ways to engage the campus in dialog about issues of importance. I have invited the cheerleaders to think about ways students can work with us to help build programming about racial inequalities in order to contribute to awareness and understanding. I look forward to their input.