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Singing National Anthem Illegal?!

Heritage’s Mike Brownfield has a post titled ““Shut up! You Can’t Sing the National Anthem Here!”” that’s guaranteed to raise the hackles of every red-blooded American.

Take heed, America. The next time you visit Washington, D.C., feel free to stand in awe of the monuments to our greatest leaders, but do not — DO NOT — sing the National Anthem at the Lincoln Memorial. It turns out that doing so is a violation of federal law.

How can this be?!  What an outrage!

Well, it turns out, not so much.

Brownfield’s report is based on a Fox News story titled “Students at Lincoln Memorial Told to Stop Singing National Anthem.” And it’s a pretty tame tale:

A group of high school students attending a conservative leadership conference in Washington, D.C. said they were ordered by a security guard to stop singing the national anthem during a June 25 visit to the Lincoln Memorial.

“They told them to stop singing,” said Evan Gassman, a spokesman for the Young America’s Foundation. “I was taken aback. You wouldn’t expect a display of national patriotism to be censored.”

U.S. Park Police confirmed that the students were in violation of federal law and their impromptu performance constituted a demonstration in an area that must remain “completely content neutral.”

“The area they were standing in and singing is an area that is restricted for this type of activity,” said Sgt. David Schlosser. “The United States Park Police is absolutely content-neutral when it comes to any sort of demonstrations in these areas.” Schlosser explained that performances, regardless of content, are banned to “maintain a contemplative and reverent area for the Lincoln Memorial, for the other guests and visitors.”

[...]

Schlosser said the students would have been in compliance had they moved approximately 25 steps from where they were standing.

“It’s not the content of their activity – that being the national anthem – it’s the location,” he said. “A couple steps and it would have been no problem whatsoever.”

Instead of doing as they were instructed, Gassman said the students resumed the song – an impromptu form of civil disobedience. “If their idea of civil disobedience is singing the national anthem, then so be it,” Gassman said. “Let them disobey.”

Yes, the Lincoln Memorial is public property.  And the National Anthem is a patriotic song!

But it’s perfectly reasonable to have content-neutral restrictions on otherwise lawful activity so that visitors can enjoy the monuments in quiet reflection.  The courts have long recognized that, while freedom of speech and assembly are our most cherished rights, they’re still subject to reasonable restrictions in terms of time, place, and manner to serve legitimate public interests.

If the Park Police allowed YAF kids to sing the Star Spangled Banner, they’d pretty much have to allow anyone to sing or say anything.   And the Memorial would be a cacophony of protesters rather than a national treasure.

My wife and I took a lot of our wedding day photos around the National Mall and its monuments.  And one actually has to get permits to do wedding photography at the more popular ones.  On the surface, that’s bureaucratic and petty.  But, otherwise, the ability of the public to enjoy the monuments they’ve often traveled a long way to see would be ruined by a constant stream of wedding parties blocking their access.

I don’t like any of this.  But there are trade-offs when dealing with very popular public goods.  And a polite admonishment from a security guard to please move back 25 steps strikes me as a perfectly reasonable balance.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. JKB says:

    You got to love the irony of being charged with being civilly disobedient at a public monument in the capitol of a country founded by the civilly disobedient.  Thank God this didn’t happen right in front of one of the Founding Fathers.

    They should post a sign:  No spontaneous displays of national affection allowed.

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  2. James Joyner says:

    I’m not sure what great tyranny the YAFers were standing up to here.  But the nature of civil disobedience is that you face the consequences and hope to garner attention and sympathy for your cause in so doing.

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  3. Juneau: says:

    The idea that singing the national anthem falls under a legitimate censorship provision is asinine. Pc run completely out of control – this fits right in there with schools that deny children over-the-counter cold medication because of a “zero drug” policy.  This is like saying that fans at a baseball game can’t cheer for the home team because “confrontational displays” are not allowed in public places.  Sheer PC gone way, way too far.
    At some point, common sense will prevail in this country again and we can have a nice chuckle about the fools that can’t tell the difference between common sense and regulations.  If singing the national anthem is non content-neutral, then the Lincoln monument itself is not content-neutral.  The text above the statue reads as follows:
    IN THIS TEMPLE
    AS IN THE HEARTS OF THE PEOPLE
    FOR WHOM HE SAVED THE UNION
    THE MEMORY OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN
    IS ENSHRINED FOREVER

    Notice it references saving the Union, or the nation.  The average American who is not seeped in intellectual double-think, has no problem understanding the stupidity of the park police in situations like this.
     

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  4. Brian Knapp says:

    The idea that singing the national anthem falls under a legitimate censorship provision is asinine. Pc run completely out of control

    How exactly is singing the national anthem non-pc?

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  5. If one has been to the Lincoln Memorial (and I have several times), there are signs in the main portion of the building that ask people to be quiet and reverent (I can’t remember the exact language).  It is, after all, a memorial.  As such, curtailing singing when other people are trying to contemplate the speeches inscribed on the walls and whatnot seems reasonable.
    It isn’t about curtailing the rights of the singers, it is about balancing the rights of the singers with the other people present.

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  6. PD Shaw says:

    The Man is trying to make up for letting Mahalia Jackson sing there once upon a dream . . .

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  7. Juneau says:

    @Steven Taylor

    If one has been to the Lincoln Memorial (and I have several times), there are signs in the main portion of the building that ask people to be quiet and reverent

    Sorry, still don’t buy it.  You can honor in two ways, aprobation or silence.  Both are perfectly valid as well as reverent and neither should fall under the issue at hand, which is that the national anthem was silenced because of a “completely content neutral” policy.

    Again, it is through double-think that we get to a place where it is not allowed to sing praises to our nation while standing at the memorial of a leader who essentially died for the ideas contained in the song.  That’s just silliness in the form of fairness.

    The idea of “if this is allowed then you have to allow everything” comes from this erroneous PC notion that everything is equal, in all settings and circumstances, therefore the only way to approach an issue is to allow nothing.   Common sense tells us otherwise.  Again, look at the foolishness in public schools where children are being suspended for having an aspirin.  When do we stop and admit this type of “non-judgement” judgement is just stupid, not to mention harmful?

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  8. JKB says:

    I’m not sure what great tyranny the YAFers were standing up to here.  But the nature of civil disobedience is that you face the consequences and hope to garner attention and sympathy for your cause in so doing.

    Tyranny need not be great to justify disobedience.  In fact, it is the small incursions that are important to oppose to avoid violence when they grow large.  Although I will grant, here they could have moved 25 steps over and then sung a little louder.

    In fact, one could say that the founding fathers should have just paid their taxes rather than start a war over them.  I mean, they were doing alright.  They could afford to pay more.  There were debts and that whole mini ice age that needed tending to.  King George’s wife and daughter had to forgo their trip to the south of Spain because somebody tossed tea into the harbor.

    But I understand, the denizens of DC want to be able to take their run on the mall or eat their lunch without a bunch of kids singing the Star Spangled Banner in a burst of national pride.  I’ll bet they had copies of the Constitution in their pockets like anybody who’s anyone reads that anymore.  Rubes, must be from flyover country.  Really, they’ll let anyone into the DC these days.

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  9. anjin-san says:

    > But the nature of civil disobedience is that you face the consequence
    Whereas the nature of the far right is just to whine endlessly.
    Joan Baez took real, repeated risks with her personal safety to further the cause of civil rights when she could have been kicking it in the Hamptons. The professional cry babies in here could learn something from her example.

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  10. Grewgills says:

    If singing the national anthem is non content-neutral

    It is the park policy that is content neutral.  They are not allowed to be loud or boisterous regardless of content.  It is not, as you seem to think, that any loud singing needs to be content neutral.

    You can honor in two ways, aprobation or silence.

    When people are trying to do the latter it is rude to do the former.  This location is set aside for the latter.  There are no shortage of venues for the former.  This is outrage for the sake of outrage.

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  11. Juneau: says:

    @grew gills
    They are not allowed to be loud or boisterous regardless of content.
    This is untrue, and additionally, there is nothing in statements by park police in the article to support your position.   There are innumerable grade-school field trips t this monument will all manner of boisterous and excited children actively “violating” the reverent silence you want us to believe is mandated at the memorial.

    The notion that the anthem violated some policy of enforced silence is completely manufactured in defense of your point.   You have also mutated the issue to state that “rude” behavior (praise instead of silence) falls within the category of forbidden behavior.  Not the policy of the police and not germane to the issue.  The idea that contemplative silence is superior to vocal praise is a completely subjective observation.

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  12. Angelo says:

    Sure, and they don’t even stop the people from wading in the WW2 memorial.

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