Patriotism conflicts with ‘content neutral’ territory

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Column by Linda Ireland

By Linda Ireland

Truism: It’s OK to sing the National Anthem at any place, any time, in the United States.

This truism is not true.

There are always exceptions. Sometimes it’s inappropriate to sing period. Please do not ever sit behind me and sing in a movie theater. You may end up wearing a box of popcorn.

Besides that – if you thought, like me, that your freedom to express patriotism is unlimited in our country, you would be wrong.

You cannot sing the National Anthem at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

I first noticed the story on the Internet and believed it to be a hoax – one of those “I hate the government” things. But, according to several news sources, a group of high school students were ordered to stop singing inside the Memorial.

The students were touring D.C. June 25 as part of a conservative leadership conference. They broke out in song and a security guard told them to knock it off.

FoxNews.com and NBC Washington interviewed the U.S. Park Police. The following is an excerpt from the report:

“U.S. Park Police confirmed that the students were in violation of federal law and their impromptu performance constituted a demonstration in an area that must remain completely content neutral.”

I don’t know about you, but I know a demonstration when I see one. Singing the National Anthem just doesn’t seem to fit my idea of civil disobedience.

Sgt. David Schlosser said performances, regardless of content, are banned to “maintain a contemplative and reverent area for the Lincoln Memorial, for the other guests and visitors.”

Schlosser said the students would have been in compliance had they moved about 25 steps from where they were standing.

What a crock.

Abraham Lincoln was not a “content neutral” kind of guy. He took exception to many policies and laws of his day. He spoke out. Remember that whole Emancipation Proclamation thing?

A more recent event flew in the face of this federal law.

On Jan. 19, 2009, a great host of celebrities held a concert at the Lincoln Memorial for President-elect Obama. They danced; they played and sang loudly; they cheered. It was not reverent.

It was over the top – but no one told them to pipe down or move 25 steps away.

I’m a fan of many of those stars – but a bigger fan of those high school singers. The teens disobeyed the guard and resumed their song – even louder.

If another visitor was offended by the tune – or if it in some way ruined the moment for them – they could have waited a few minutes for it to end and continued their tour. The song isn’t that long.

Other media have criticized the young people, saying the “demonstration” was planned – that they knew they would be hushed – that they did it for media attention.

I don’t know if it was a planned event. Does it matter? I’m glad they did it so the rest of us realize that our liberties, even some of the most basic, are not secure.

Those young outlaws made their point and God bless America.