(New York, NY) — Bluefield College, a private Baptist college in Virginia, doled out a one-game suspension Wednesday to multiple players on the school’s men’s basketball team who kneeled during the national anthem. PEN America’s Jonathan Friedman, director of free expression and education, said the following:

“Students do not forfeit their rights to freedom of expression when they don school jerseys. The suspension of these student athletes is a wrongheaded response to an act of peaceful protest. Bluefield College president David Olive has said that he suspended the students because he did not think it would be perceived by some alumni, friends, and donors of the college ‘in a positive way.’

“But the right to free speech does not end where others’ discomfort begins; indeed, the defense of those rights is most essential when protecting speech that may make others, especially those in positions of power, uncomfortable. Against a backdrop of attacks on protest rights across the country, and coming in the wake of national events that have spotlighted how unevenly free speech rights can be upheld when it comes to protests over racial injustice, this punitive response looks even more disturbing. Bluefield should reverse this decision, apologize to the students, and affirm the school’s commitment to upholding students’ right to free expression.”