With the recent conclusion of the 2008 Summer Olympic Games, we are all reminded that our national anthem serves as a celebration of our accomplishments, a reminder of our forefathers and what it means to be an American. We hear and sing the "Star Spangled Banner" at numerous occasions, including sporting, community and scholastic events. While many citizens are aware of the official customs that are required of those attending an event at which the anthem is played, others are not, or have forgotten. For such individuals, I offer this refresher course in two patriotic customs: the rendition of the national anthem and the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.
The words that make up the "Star Spangled Banner" were originally penned by Francis Scott Key upon witnessing the British bombardment of Fort McHenry during the War of 1812. The patriotic lyrics were soon set to the tune of a popular song of the time entitled "To Anacreon in Heaven" and a musical edition was published shortly thereafter. The song became well-known over the years and, in 1916, President Woodrow Wilson ordered that it be sung at military and naval events. In 1931, the song was designated as the national anthem by an act of Congress.
The Star Spangled Banner consists of four verses, but apart from very formal occasions, only the first verse is sung. During a performance of the national anthem at which the flag is flown, all present should stand at attention facing the flag with their right hand over their heart. Men who are not in uniform should remove any hats, visors, or headdress of any kind with their right hand and hold it at their left shoulder, in order to ensure that their hand is over their heart. Those in uniform should execute the standard military salute at the first note of the anthem and maintain this position until the last note is played. At events at which the flag is not displayed, those in attendance are required to face the band or loudspeaker playing the anthem and act in the same manner they would if the flag were displayed. These procedures are so important that they have been codified in Title 36 of the U.S. Code.
As children we all learned the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag, "I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." Those attending an event at which the Pledge is recited should stand at attention and face the flag with their right hand over their heart. As with the national anthem, those men not in uniform should remove their headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder. Those in uniform should be silent, face the flag, and render the military salute.
The next time you attend an event at which the national anthem is played or the Pledge of Allegiance is recited remember these instructions so that you may properly honor your country and show your patriotism for our great nation.
New York State Assembly
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