Is it illegal not to stand for the National Anthem?


Saluki sophomore guard Armon Fletcher bows his head during the singing of the national anthem prior to the start of SIU’s 60-53 loss to the Illinois State Redbirds on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017, at SIU Arena. Fletcher scored 12 points in the game. (Jacob Wiegand | @jawiegandphoto)

The controversy over the NFL and the National Anthem continues, with players kneeling while the White House fumes.

But the question is: Are players — or anyone else not standing for the National Anthem — breaking the law?

No, at least according to the U.S. Code.


The code contains a list of Star-Spangled Banner etiquette. It says:

Conduct during a rendition of the national anthem 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.

The key word here is “should,” according to legal experts, which stops short of “shall” or “must.”


The passage is part of the larger U.S Flag Code, which prescribes American flag and National Anthem etiquette. However, as a 2007 report to Congress noted, the code “does not prescribe any penalties for non-compliance” and “functions simply as a guide to be voluntarily followed by civilians and civilian groups.”

In other words, it’s not against the law to sit out the National Anthem, however controversial it might be.

While someone won’t be arrested for sitting out the National Anthem, a Tennessee lawmaker is pushing Congress to remind people on proper etiquette.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tennessee, filed a resolution Monday reminding Americans of the code’s National Anthem guidelines.

“The National Anthem is a source of American pride. Our flag is the ultimate symbol of unity — uniting all Americans under one banner as “Americans” — and we should respect it and those who have and continue to defend it,” Blackburn said.

Blackburn’s efforts will likely be met with support from the White House. President Trump has consistently called out NFL players and others who have sat out the National Anthem.


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