The American flag, as well as the Star-Spangled Banner, are a key part of America’s history, and one way in which to inspire patriotism and familiarity. Just like branding for a business, the United States flag, and the United States national anthem are representative of this country. They are used to encourage and promote unity and loyalty.
The Star-Spangled Banner was written in 1814 by the then 35-year-old amateur poet and lawyer, Francis Scott Key, who penned the poem titled “The Defence of Fort McHenry” after witnessing the British bombard the Maryland fort during the War of 1812.
The poem was later set to music in 1931 and became America’s national anthem. So why do we stand for the flag? Is it written in law that we stand? Let’s take a look at some more history of the flag, the national anthem, and why Americans stand for the flag.
Why Do We Have To Stand for the Flag?
According to law, we, as United States citizens, don’t technically have to behave any certain way during the national anthem. That’s what makes America great, it is a free country. Allowing the option to stand for the flag, and people choosing to stand for the flag is everything our soldiers fight for: our freedom. And when people choose to stand for the flag, as opposed to standing for the flag out of fear of breaking the law, they are building true patriotism and loyalty.
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The difference between choice and force is huge. Every time we stand for the national anthem as a community, as a country, we are holding each other, we are supporting our troops who are currently fighting, who have fought in the past, and who have died fighting for our right to live a free life.
According to U.S. law, when “the composition consisting of the words and music known as the Star-Spangled Banner” or any rendition of it is being played and the flag is displayed, “individuals in uniform should give the military salute at the first note of the anthem and maintain that position until the last note. Members of the Armed Forces and veterans who are present but not in uniform may render the military salute in the manner provided for individuals in uniform. And, finally, all other persons present should face the flag and stand at attention with their right hand over the heart, and men not in uniform, if applicable, should remove their headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart.” When the flag isn’t displayed, but the music is playing, it is suggested that all who are present should face towards and act in the manner they would if the flag were on display.
The law suggests what people should do and how they should act when the flag and national anthem are present and being played, but there is no language suggesting we “must.” It is not against the law to not stand for the national anthem or place your hand over your heart, but it is a sign of unity and hope when you do stand. As Americans, we support freedom of expression, but as Americans, shouldn’t we also support our country, its flaws and all?
Why Do We Stand for the American Flag? A History
Let’s take a look at some more of the history of the American flag and how the national anthem came about. We talked about lawyer and poet, Francis Scott Key. During the Battle of Baltimore, when British ships of the Royal Navy attacked Fort McHenry, Key was inspired by the “Star-Spangled Banner” at the time, which was the American flag with 15 stars and 15 stripes flying over the fort during the U.S. victory, a battle that Key was certain the British were going to win due to the sheer amount of fire being sent towards Fort McHenry. His poem, which eventually became the lyrics, was a symbol of hope and triumph. That same flag is still preserved in the Smithsonian, the original flag that Key saw flying over the fort after the battle, the same flag that inspires and evokes emotions and ideas about what it means to be an American.
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The Star-Spangled Banner was recognized for official use in 1889 by the U.S. Navy, and later, in 1916, by President Woodrow Wilson who ordered the song be played at military functions as well as other appropriate occasions. On March 3, 1931, President Herbert Hoover signed a congressional resolution that made the Star-Spangled Banner the national anthem. The national anthem has been regularly played at the beginning of NFL games, by the order of NFL commissioner Elmer Layden since the end of WWII, and has been played at various baseball games since WWI. The National Hockey League and Major Soccer League also require the national anthem be played at venues in both Canada and the U.S. when teams from both countries are playing each other.
Standing for What Unites Us, Not Divides Us
For a time, there was confusion over whether the Pledge of Allegiance or the Star-Spangled Banner required the hand over the heart and standing at attention. Certain religions don’t stand or sing the national anthem because the law is suggestive rather than regulatory. Some people have also used the national anthem as an opportunity to express their opinions about different topics in human rights and political realms. The reason it is suggestive is because enforcing a certain belief or behavior would violate the First Amendment that protects an individual’s right to freedom of speech, religious freedom, and freedom of expression. Regardless of whether you agree with certain behaviors in regards to standing or not for the national anthem, it is a basic component and freedom that our soldiers protect so that all of the citizens of America can live their lives in a way that works for them (as long as doesn’t harm others, of course).
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As Americans, the American flag is representative of what unites us, not divides us. It’s easy to zero in and hyperfocus on issues that we face as a country — because there are plenty — but then we start to lose sight of what unites us. The important thing to remember in situations where someone acts a way that goes against the norm or of what is expected or suggested, and that is for us to stand strong in our own beliefs that we stand for freedom, and sometimes that freedom means allowing others to live in a way that feels right for them. Standing for the flag can unite us, especially during times of great upheaval, after the 9/11 terrorist attacks for instance, and provides an opportunity to feel connected to other people when there is so much grief and sorrow.
Why do we stand for the national anthem and flag? Because we support our troops, and we stand united as a nation. It doesn’t mean we have to agree with everything happening politically. It just signals that we are showing up for each other, doing our best, and trying to meet each other where we are at. Standing for the flag represents hope, a history, and a promise to try and be the best version of ourselves as individuals and also as a whole. Standing for the flag represents unity during tumultuous and uncertain times, and it also promotes trust in a nation and its power to defend itself.