In learning the values we most closely hold as Americans, we grow up being taught that there are certain activities and events whose etiquette hold a great deal of respect within our society, and that we are expected to follow these guidelines even if the rules and regulations regarding them have no enforcement clauses to force us to do so.

These expectations, codified below, are demonstrated and taught at every level and help define our identity as Americans. Several of these motions include giving seats to elderly, pregnant or disabled people on public transit; giving assistance to those in need due to disaster or unexpected events; and holding our hand over our heart during the Pledge of Allegiance or National Anthem.

These are not just ‘courtesies’ but ways we are known as Americans the world over. Countries across the globe are always surprised by the largesse shown by Americans when a catastrophe strikes, or when they visit here and experience first-hand how warm and welcoming Americans can be.

When people act against these expectations, even when exercising their freedom of dissidence as our country’s freedoms and rights allow, our society finds great fault and disappointment in some of these actions. People argue in the media and online that ‘there are no legal rules against this type of protest’ or ‘that’s just not how the right way to act’. But what, exactly, ARE the ‘rules’?

While there are many articles and stories posted to the internet, to include this highly-cited article by the BBC (surprisingly coming from a foreign media source), and which mostly give opinion, the real regulations regarding how we are expected to behave during the playing of the Anthem or other patriotic recitations are contained in the U.S. Code, Title 36. This details many of the regulations regarding displays of flags, holidays, remembrances, and monuments just to name a few. In the code, the section regarding the National Anthem states:

301. National anthem
(a) Designation.—The composition consisting of the words and music known as the Star-Spangled Banner is the national anthem.
(b) Conduct During Playing.—During a rendition of the national anthem—
(1) when the flag is displayed—
(A) individuals in uniform should give the military salute at the first note of the anthem and maintain that position until the last note;
(B) 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
(C) 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; and

(2) when the flag is not displayed, all present should face toward the music and act in the same manner they would if the flag were displayed.

Amendments
2008—Subsec. (b)(1)(A) to (C). Pub. L. 110–417 added subpars. (A) to (C) and struck out former subpars. (A) to (C) which read as follows:
“(A) all present except those in uniform should stand at attention facing the flag with the right hand over the heart;

“(B) men not in uniform should remove their headdress with their right hand and hold the headdress at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart; and

“(C) individuals in uniform should give the military salute at the first note of the anthem and maintain that position until the last note;

Should someone violate these, there are no real legal repercussions. However, these simple rules are so highly regarded and ingrained as etiquette (as are similar actions for the recitation of the Pledge) that anyone breaking them is typically considered an ‘outsider’ to the norms.

We at America Matters greatly appreciate our freedom to express. We also feel that these rules, their respect and the etiquette we’ve been taught must be extended and re-learned across our educational system.

While having the right of expression is important, understanding how we get these rights and how our being American is foundational to societies across the globe is also important, and we must continue to show and respect those ways we display American values and virtues. Otherwise, they will continue to erode and eventually cease to exist, and then what hope does anyone have?