A proposed law in Indiana would make it illegal to sing the national anthem incorrectly. The lawmaker who is proposing this, Vaneta Becker, says she was motivated to do so after a complaint to her office of a parody version of the anthem was performed during a school program. Even if it’s done in a joking manner, she doesn’t believe that our national anthem should be joked about. The law would apply to public schools, state universities, and private schools that receive any public funds (including vouchers).
Under this proposed bill, performers would have to sign a contract agreeing to abide by the standards. The proposal also requires the schools holding the event to maintain a recording of the performance for two years so that they can be reviewed.
According to this article, the standards of acceptability would be set by the state Department of Education and the Commission for Higher Education. Violators would be fined $25.
Other states already have similar laws in place.
Massachusetts and Michigan both prohibit using “The Star-Spangled Banner” as dance music, an exit march or as part of a musical medley. Both states also ban adding “embellishment or addition in the way of national or other melodies.” The law covers all public places, as well as theaters, movie theaters, restaurants and cafes.
In Michigan, where the law has been on the books since 1931, violators can be charged with a misdemeanor.
Florida law sets standards for the way people are supposed to act when the anthem is being performed.
Federal law also establishes a protocol for people listening to renditions of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” which became the national anthem in 1931. People in the audience are to face the flag and place their right hand over their heart. Those wearing hats are to remove them and hold them over their hearts. If no flag is present, the audience is supposed to face the singer.
Those guidelines, however, do not specifically address melodic or lyrical improvisations.
First of all, I’d like to say that I just learned today that it is against federal law to not put your right hand over your heart while listening to The Star-Spangled Banner.
Regarding this proposed law in Indiana, I’d like to point out a few things that are annoying me about it.
- It’s vague. The senator proposing it doesn’t propose any standards, but leaves that up to a couple of committees. That’s kind of dangerous. She might intend that it only cover people who make intentional changes, not those who can’t sing well. But, we can’t read minds, and we would be put in a position to do that. Besides that, the bill covers melodic changes, not just lyrical changes. How on earth would we know whether someone deliberately changed the melody or if they got lost in the song?
- There’s no need for it. There is no crisis in the butchering of the national anthem. Sure, some of the improvisation renditions are annoying, but if all annoying things were illegal, we’d all be in trouble.
- It’s a waste of time and energy for the schools to bother with these contracts and recordings. It might not be a huge deal, but it is just one more wasteful thing without good reason.
- It borders on violating free speech. If someone changes the words to the national anthem in a parodied manner, they’re probably trying to make a point. The expression of their views would be restricted. I don’t think it is right and proper to do this with a huge, unsuspecting crowd, but this law would apply to all “performances” of the anthem, even in a school play or small program at the school.
- When I was young, the national anthem was sung at every sporting event at my school. It was always lame when they couldn’t find anyone to sing it. They ended up playing a tape of a recorded performance of it through the sound system. It might have followed protocol, but it sure was boring. I bet this will happen more often if this becomes law. People might not want to sign a contract and do something that puts them in a position of possibly breaking the law and being further scrutinized. And the school might not want to record all of the performances. Instead, they could produce a CD for anyone who asks and say that this is all of their performances for the last two years.
- It is basically the result of one person whining about something that offended them. Are we the home of the brave or not?