Lawmaker: National Anthem Singing Should Be Regulated

Performers Would Have To Meet Guidelines Or Face Fine

Oh say can you see a need for a law to set standards for the singing and playing of the national anthem?

An Indiana legislator wants the state Department of Education to impose standards for national anthem performances at public schools and universities.

A bill filed by State Sen. Vaneta Becker, R-Evansville, would require performers -- whether amateur or professional -- to sign a contract agreeing to follow the guidelines and would set a possible $25 fine for violators.

Becker told The Indianapolis Star that the proposal isn't aimed at off-key singers, only those who make intentional changes.

Becker said she would expect the guidelines to require that the national anthem be sung with the usual lyrics to the traditional melody -- "the way that we normally have it sung or heard throughout most of our state and our country."

The senator said she started working on the proposal after getting a complaint about a school program in which the words of "The Star-Spangled Banner" were substituted or parodied in a way the caller found disrespectful.

"Sometimes it's just done in a joking manner," Becker said, "but I don't think the national anthem is something we ought to be joking around with."

Setting standards for the singing of the national anthem in schools probably doesn't violate the Constitution, said David Orentlicher, an Indiana University constitutional law professor and a former Democratic legislator.

But while the bill might not raise constitutional issues, Kenneth Falk, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, said it does raise policy questions.

"I'm not quite sure why, from a public policy standpoint, the General Assembly wants to be involved in specifying how any song should be sung," Falk said. "I don't think it's going to help us with our math and science."

Falk told RTV6's Derrik Thomas there are concerns about how a standard would be set.

"I'm not sure how you're going to (have clear, ascertainable standards)," Falk said. "There are many, many ways of very respectfully treating the national anthem that will not necessarily sound the same as the next way."

Becker's bill calls for schools to maintain audio recordings of all performances for two years and develop a procedure for dealing with complaints about someone straying from the approved lyrical or musical guidelines.

Becker's proposal also would cover private schools receiving state or local scholarship funds, including money from the new state voucher program.

It is unclear whether the Legislature will take action on Becker's bill during its session that starts Wednesday. The Legislature's website indicates it will be assigned to the Senate's education committee.

Commenters on RTV6's Facebook wall were not in favor of the legislation.

"Do we REALLY need a law? Hardly. This is the pinnacle of stupidity from our state lawmakers," said commenter Kevin MacDonald. "Just because you don't like the way someone sings a song doesn't mean you can legislate against it."

"Of all the problems facing the citizens of Indiana, from unemployment, children going hungry, seniors unable to pay for medication, this is just another frivolous act by a legislator that it completely out of touch with the people of Indiana," said commenter Randy Klemme.

At least two other states -- Massachusetts and Michigan -- have laws setting standards for how the national anthem should be sung in all public places.

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