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State Lawmaker Proposes Bill Making it Illegal to Sing National Anthem Incorrectly

AP File Photo

An Indiana state lawmaker has introduced a bill that would set specific "performance standards" for singing the national anthem.

State Sen. Vaneta Becker's legislation would affect all renditions of "The Star-Spangled Banner" performed at any event sponsored by public schools or state universities, the Indianapolis Star reported. Performers would have to sign a contract agreeing to follow certain lyrical and melodic guidelines, and would be fined $25 if they failed to meet the appropriate standards.

Vaneta Becker

According to the Star, Becker's bill doesn't lay out what is considered "acceptable" -- instead, those guidelines would be determined by the state's Department of Education

Becker, a Republican, told the newspaper she would expect the guidelines to require the 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."

She said she wrote the bill after a constituent complained about a school program in which the anthem was parodied in a way the constituent thought was disrespectful. Becker told the Star said she herself has heard parody versions of the national anthem on TV.

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

She insisted she only wants to punish those who make intentional changes -- not people who can't carry a tune.

If passed, the bill would require schools to maintain audio recordings of all national anthem performances for two years and to develop a procedure for dealing with complaints if a performer is accused of straying from the approved guidelines, the Star reported.

Other states already have laws on the books dealing with "The Star-Spangled Banner": In Massachusetts, it's illegal to play the anthem as dance music, an exit march or part of a medley, punishable by a $100 fine. In Michigan, a similar law can earn violators a misdemeanor.

David Orentlicher, a professor of constitutional law at Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law, told the Star that setting standards for singing the national anthem in schools is probably not a constitutional violation.

Still, Kenneth Falk, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, told the newspaper he thinks it's a question of priorities.

"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," he said. "I don't think it's going to help us with our math and science."

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