National Anthem: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

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President Donald Trump criticized members of the National Football League who have taken a knee during the national anthem to protest racial inequality in the United States.

“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired. He’s fired!’” Trump said during a rally in Alabama on Friday.

Trump encouraged fans to leave the stadium or turn off their televisions if players continue to protest during the national anthem during football games.

“I guarantee things will stop. Things will stop. Just pick up and leave. Pick up and leave,” he said.

In a series of tweets over the past few days, Trump continued his attack on sports players who kneel during the national anthem.

Trump and many others across the country say it’s unpatriotic not to stand during the national anthem, which is played before the start of major sporting events, and many say it disrespects the U.S. military.

But former NFL player Colin Kaepernick, who began kneeling during the National Anthem last year said he was doing it to make a larger point about racism and police brutality.

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told NFL Media last year. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

Here’s what you need to know about the national anthem:

1. The Star Spangled Banner Is the National Anthem

The lyrics come from a poem written by Francis Scott Key, who witnessed the bombing of Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Maryland, during the Battle of Baltimore in the War of 1812.

From the National Park Service:

After 25 hours of continuous bombing, the British decided to leave since they were unable to destroy the fort as they had hoped. Realizing that the British had ceased the attack, Key looked toward the fort to see if the flag was still there. To his relief, the flag was still flying! Quickly, he wrote down the words to a poem which was soon handed out as a handbill under the title “Defense of Fort McHenry.” Later, the words were set to music, and renamed “The Star Spangled Banner.”

There are monuments honoring Francis Scott Key at Fort McHenry on Eutaw Place in Baltimore and at the Presidio in San Francisco, California.

2. The Song Didn’t Become the National Anthem Until 1931

National Museum of American History

The Star Spangled Banner became popular during the Civil War and by the 1890s, the military had adopted it for ceremonial purposes, requiring it to be played at the raising and lowering of the colors. However, the song did not become the National Anthem until 1931, according to the National Museum of American History.

3. The National Anthem Is Set To the Music of an English Song

According to the National Museum of American History, the melody that Francis Scott Key used for the national anthem comes from a popular English tune called “To Anacreon in Heaven.” Anacreon was an ancient Greek poet noted for his praise of love and wine.

The song was written around 1775 by John Stafford Smith and was originally the “constitutional song” of the Anacreontic Society, a gentlemen’s music club in London.

4. Many Say the Star Spangled Banner’s Lyrics Are Racist

Performers usually only sing the first part of the Star Spangled Banner during sporting events. These are the most well-known lyrics from the song:

O say can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hail’d at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight
O’er the ramparts we watch’d were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket’s red glare, the bomb bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there,
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

But the song has three more verses:

On the shore dimly seen through the mists of the deep
Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream,
‘Tis the star-spangled banner – O long may it wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore,
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion
A home and a Country should leave us no more?
Their blood has wash’d out their foul footstep’s pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

O thus be it ever when freemen shall stand
Between their lov’d home and the war’s desolation!
Blest with vict’ry and peace may the heav’n rescued land
Praise the power that hath made and preserv’d us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto – “In God is our trust,”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

It’s the third verse that has many critics say the song is racist. Many African Americans fought with the British during the War of 1812. Jason Johnson writes this for The Root:

“In other words, Key was saying that the blood of all the former slaves and ‘hirelings’ on the battlefield will wash away the pollution of the British invaders. With Key still bitter that some black soldiers got the best of him a few weeks earlier, ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ is as much a patriotic song as it is a diss track to black people who had the audacity to fight for their freedom. Perhaps that’s why it took almost 100 years for the song to become the national anthem.”

5. It Is Not Illegal To Sit or Kneel During the National Anthem

(Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)FOXBORO, MA – SEPTEMBER 24: Members of the New England Patriots kneel during the National Anthem before a game against the Houston Texans at Gillette Stadium on September 24, 2017 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

The NFL recently said in a statement that “players are encouraged, but not required, to stand during the playing of the National Anthem.”

However, there is no law in the United States that says a person must stand when the song is played but the U.S. Code says that one “should stand at attention.”

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

According to Title 36 (section 171) of the United States Code, “During rendition of the national anthem when the flag is displayed, all present except those in (military) uniform should stand at attention facing the flag with the right hand over the heart. Men not in uniform should remove their headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart. Persons in uniform should render the military salute at the first note of the anthem and retain this position until the last note. When the flag is not displayed, those present should face toward the music and act in the same manner they would if the flag were displayed there.”

The question, of course, is whether “should” in the first sentence means “must” or “shall.”

Section 171 does not specify nor impose penalties for violating the section of the code. According to a Congressional Research Service report to Congress in 2008, “The Flag Code is a codification of customs and rules established for the use of certain civilians and civilian groups. No penalty or punishment is specified in the Flag Code for display of the flag of the United States in a manner other than as suggested. Cases … have concluded that the Flag Code does not proscribe conduct, but is merely declaratory and advisory.”

In other words, the Flag Code serves as a guide, and it is followed on a voluntary basis. You won’t be forced to stand for the National Anthem, nor hauled off to jail if you don’t. Cases brought because of something in the code — mainly ones that involve defacing the flag — have made their way to the U.S. Supreme Court where the justices have upheld that such conduct is protected by the First Amendment.

There are no provisions in the code for either enforcement nor penalties.