On the Front Lines of the Culture Wars

Is it really against the law to sing America’s  national anthem while you are visiting the Lincoln Memorial on the Washington, D.C. national mall?


Yes, according to the National Park Service, which administers the memorial.


The ban was discovered recently when a group of high school students touring Washington, D.C spontaneously broke into song – and were sternly told by a park ranger to knock it off.


The National Park Service says they are worried that someone might be offended by America’s national anthem being sung by Americans visiting America’s capital. So, some bureaucrat established a policy that requires that any singing at the Lincoln Memorial be “content neutral.”


Patriotism isn’t neutral. The Star-Spangled Banner is blatantly American. And the park service is afraid that might be offensive to somebody.


The policy was discovered by a group of high school students attending a leadership conference in Washington, D.C., sponsored by Young America’s Foundation.


“They told them to stop singing,” said Evan Gassman, an adult chaperone for the group. “I was taken aback. You wouldn’t expect a display of national patriotism to be censored. They really did not provide the students a reason.”


Singing the national anthem was a spur of the moment thing, says high school senior Shawn Balcomb, of Richmond Hill, Georgia. “We got maybe two lines in and a police officer came over and he was yelling. He quieted us down.”


Balcomb, 17, said the officer told the group to quit it.


“I was dumbfounded,” he said. After all, a number of famous people have sung the national anthem from the steps of the memorial — such as Marian Anderson during the 1950s in another spontaneous concert when she was blocked from using a concert hall due to segregation laws. Martin Luther King gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech from the steps of the memorial.


Balcomb said they didn’t intend on creating a ruckus – they just felt patriotic as they looked up into the granite face of the Great Emancipator.


“So much for freedom of speech,” commented Martin Luther King’s niece, Alveda King, in a guest column for the Wall Street Journal.  She says she had a similar run-in with over-zealous National Park Service rangers, she says, however her run-in was at the Martin Luther King Memorial in Atlanta. 


There a park policeman, she says, “removed a bullhorn from the hands of Father Frank Pavone. We brought a wreath to lay at Uncle Martin’s grave while we prayed, but we weren’t allowed.


“The National Park Service said that would constitute a demonstration. So much for freedom of assembly.”


lincoln -- martin luther king on the steps.jpgIt is a tad ironic that the National Park Service has decided that there can be no demonstrations at King’s memorial … even though King made his name leading demonstrations. It’s ridiculous, says his niece.


“Americans are hungry to reclaim the symbols of our liberty, hard won by an unlikely group of outnumbered, outgunned, underfunded patriots determined not to live in servitude to the British Empire,” she wrote in the Journal. “If we want to sing the national anthem at a memorial to Lincoln, the man who led this nation out of slavery, and made my people free, we should be able to send our voices soaring to the heavens.”


No, says the U. S. Park Police. A spokesman confirmed that the students at the Lincoln Memorial were in violation of federal law. 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.


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.”


Incidentally, the kids looked at each other, then at the park ranger, then continued singing – louder. Instead of doing as they were instructed, Gassman said, the kids resumed the song – an impromptu form of civil disobedience.


As they sang louder – and were joined by other tourists.


“If their idea of civil disobedience is singing the national anthem, then so be it,” Gassman said. “Let them disobey.”


 “We just wanted to pay respect to our nation – in our capital,” said Balcomb.


Schlosser said the students were not cited and to his knowledge no report was filed.


“We need to make certain that all other visitors that don’t want to be a part of that or just choose to be tourists are able to do so in the same light that probably President Lincoln wanted – which is completely content neutral,” he said.

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