Indiana Law Would Punish Schools for Getting National Anthem Wrong

Vaneta Baker

Indiana State Sen. Vaneta Becker (R) has proposed legislation that would not improve math or science skills, or indeed, anything having to do with education, but which would introduce, reports the Indianapolis Star, “’performance standards ‘for singing and playing ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ at any event sponsored by public schools and state universities.” Also affected would be private schools receiving state or local scholarship funds, including vouchers.  That’s a lot of schools.

This particular piece of legislation from Indiana may seem a minor annoyance to some, though it’s raising quite a fuss among liberals and progressives, but it represents a far greater threat to America than it might seem. And it only goes to show that Wisconsin and Michigan Tea Partiers have nothing on their Hoosier brethren.

The GOP and its Tea Party allies claim to be all for small and nonintrusive government, but the new law would require performers “to sign a contract agreeing to follow the guidelines. Musicians — whether amateur or professional — would be fined $25 if it were deemed they failed to meet the appropriate standards.” There’s nothing like giving our already overworked legal system more nuisance cases.

Additionally, “schools to maintain audio recordings of all performances for two years and develop a procedure for dealing with complaints if a musician is alleged to have strayed from the approved lyrical or melodic guidelines.” Becker claims, “I don’t think it would be very difficult for schools. You could record it on a lot of cellphones or like a small recording device (or) a CD.”

She says it won’t cost the department of education anything, but then, she hasn’t consulted the department of education.

Who would determine what an acceptable rendition of the Star Spangled Banner is? The State Department of Education with some guidance from the Commission for Higher Education. What Becker herself wants is for it to be sung “the way that we normally have it sung or heard throughout most of our state and our country.”

It has been argued that this bill does not violate the Constitution. But it is hardly in support of the spirit of the Constitution with regards to the ideals of liberty and free expression.  It sounds, unsurprisingly, like very totalitarian move, which puts it in lockstep with most other GOP legislation proposed over the past year. It would certainly put paid to any covers of the famous Jimi Hendrix version.

One question which occurs to me is whether or not we can charge all those God-fearing country singers for ruining the song with their overdone twangs. But a better question, not that anyone in the Indiana government will ask it (they are overwhelmingly Republican) is, why waste time on how the national anthem is sung when we should be concentrating on getting grades up and improving our schools and educational standards?

Strangely, this law is not a first. According to the Indianapolis Star Massachusetts and Michigan both have similar laws and no, the Tea Party didn’t do it in Michigan – that particular law dates to 1931. Violation is a misdemeanor. In neither state can you use the song as dance music or as aprt of a musical medley or as an exit march and neither state allows you to make  “embellishment or addition in the way of national or other melodies.” Worse, it isn’t limited to schools in those states but covers all public places, including theaters, movie theaters, restaurants, and cafes. Additionally, Florida wants you to act in a certain way when the national anthem is performed (don’t even thing about getting jiggy with it).

Big Brother is watching.

Of course, there is already a federal law regarding the national anthem, such as putting your hand over your heart.

Title 36 United States Code:

§ 301. National Anthem.

(a) Designation. — The composition consisting of the words and music known as the Star-Spangled Banner is the national anthem.

(b) Conduct During Playing. — During a rendition of the national anthem —

(1) when the flag is displayed —

(A) all present except those in uniform should stand at attention facing the flag with the right hand over the heart;

(B) men not in uniform should remove their headdress with their right hand and hold the headdress at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart; and

(C) individuals in uniform should give the military salute at the first note of the anthem and maintain that position until the last note.

(2) When the flag is not displayed, all present should face toward the music and act in the same manner they would if the flag were displayed.

But federal law doesn’t get persnickety about how the song is sung. And this one gets ignored every Sunday at every football game in the United States during the fall and winter and at every baseball game from spring to fall. So far, nobody has been extraordinarily renditioned but then, if they were, we wouldn’t know, would we? And who knows, we have to do something with those predator drones and Perry can’t possibly use all of them on the Mexican border. So many tempting targets, so much money to use…

Becker and her ilk need to understand there is a difference between basic respect (hand to heart, etc) and artistic expression. Artistic expression is something integral to a free society. And look folks, patriotism isn’t patriotism when it’s coerced and expressions of patriotism cannot be rigidly defined. We each show it in our own way, for example, some by supporting a war and some, equally, by opposing the same war. And a person is no less patriotic because they might hit a high note that is not on the sheet music. I personally find some of the renditions I’ve been exposed to horrific but never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined a law enacted against such performances.

This is simply an egregious example of what the Republican Party has been about for the past two years, pushing through in state after state and in the federal government legislation that has no direct bearing on any of the many crises we, as a country face. Rather than direct their attention to our real problems, the GOP has time and again directed its attention to problems of its own manufacture, presenting their bills as triumphs for liberty each time they erode our rights.

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