You May Have Been Illegally Singing the National Anthem Your Whole Life

…if you live in Michigan.

Though it’s an obscure law, in 1931, Michigan passed three criminal codes governing performances of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Proper performance is defined as follows:

How played—The national hymn or anthem, “The Star Spangled Banner”, shall not be played, sung or otherwise rendered in this state in any public place nor at any public entertainment, nor in any theatre, motion picture hall, restaurant or cafe, except as an entire and separate composition or number and without embellishments of national or other melodies; nor shall “The Star Spangled Banner” or any part thereof or selection from the same, be played as a part or selection of a medley of any kind; nor shall “The Star Spangled Banner” be played at or in any of the places mentioned herein for dancing or as an exit march.(1)

So beware — no dancing to “The Star-Spangled Banner”!!

This year, Michigan Representative Chris Afendoulis (R, 73rd District) has proposed removing the state’s three criminal codes relating to “The Star-Spangled Banner” in a bill with several other incredulous laws. As part of Professor Mark Clague’s course “Understanding ‘The Star-Spangled Banner'” at the University of Michigan, I had the honor to interview Rep. Afendoulis on his bill. [The interview follows]

Myself: When did you first come across the three codes regarding “The Star-Spangled Banner” and what was your first reaction to them? Had you heard of them before?

Representative Chris Afendoulis: Like most people, I had not heard of these restrictions. I was made aware at the start of my term that there were many laws on the books that were irrelevant and unenforceable. I was extremely surprised to know that some of these laws existed and a little disheartened that someone thought they were a good idea in the first place.

Have you found any evidence if any person has ever been penalized for this statute?

            No, we weren’t able to find anyone – which is probably a good thing. I would hope no one got in any trouble for something like this.

Is there any specific reason you chose to group these laws together for the first proposed batch of criminal codes to be repealed in Michigan?

            These were identified by various groups as laws that could be considered for repeal.

What is your next step in getting these laws repealed?

            Pending Senate approval of the legislation, it will be signed by the Governor.

Do you personally believe there should be any type of code – criminal or not – regarding the anthem and how it is sung or performed?

            I believe we should not stifle the individual creativity of performers. Criticisms of artistic interpretation should take place in our cultural sphere, not our court system. As far as a code, I’m not sure it’s necessary and certainly not for legislators to decide. I think people enjoy different interpretations — some like long drawn out notes, others like it short and sweet. If it’s really that bad of an interpretation, I’m sure social media will let them know.

What does “The Star-Spangled Banner” mean to you?

            The story behind the historical battle and the symbolism it portrays makes me proud to be an American.

What is your favorite patriotic tune?

            The Stars and Stripes Forever by John Philip Sousa

(1) State of Michigan Legislature. House. The Michigan Penal Code (Excerpt) Act 238 of 1931. 750.541–3; Duty to control manner of playing. How Played. Punishment. 18 Sep 1931. Michigan Legislature. Web. 11 Nov 2015.

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