WASHINGTON ― Attorney GeneralJeff Sessionsgave an impassioned defense of the values of free speech on Tuesday, proclaiming that “in this great land, the government does not tell you what to think or what to say.” Then the nation’s top law enforcement official condemned the actions of NFL players who protest during the national anthem and defended his boss’ right to call for them to be fired.
“The president has free speech rights too,” Sessions said after a speech at Georgetown Law, when asked whether he was concerned that PresidentDonald Trumphad criticized NFL players for exercising free-speech rights. Sessions said he did not think protesting during the national anthem was an appropriate form of speech because it “weakens the commitment” of citizens to the country.
“I agree that it’s a big mistake to protest in that fashion,” Sessions said.
“I would note of course that the players are not subject to prosecution, but if they take a provocative act, they can expect to be condemned, and the president has a right to condemn them,” Sessions said. “I would condemn their actions,” but not them personally, he continued.
“There are many ways, these players with all the assets that they have, can express their political views,” Sessions said. There are ways to protest without “denigrating the symbols of our nation,” Sessions said.
He said decisions about how protests were handled were up to NFL officials.
“The freedom of every individual player is paramount under the Constitution, it’s protected, and we have to protect it,” Sessions said. “It’s not a contradiction there.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost.