A recently proposed bill by Wisconsin Republicans calls for the state to mandate the American national anthem be played at every sporting event held in government-funded venues.
The Star Spangled Banner Act — introduced Feb. 25 by Wisconsin Sen. Patrick Testin, Rep. Tony Kurtz and Rep. Scott Krug — would have to pass through both the State Legislature and Gov. Tony Evers to become law.
The bill comes after the NBA Dallas Mavericks team temporarily chose not to play the song at the start of their home games earlier this season before receiving widespread criticism. The Mavericks’ choice reflects years of resistance to the national anthem under the Trump administration, where figures like NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick saw a disconnect between the song and recent police injustice towards people of color.
The Star Spangled Banner Act not only overlooks centuries of racism associated with American history but also violates private companies’ First Amendment rights outlined in the Constitution. By forcing businesses to hail to a national song, Testin is trying to usher in a period of government authoritarianism.
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In a statement published by the Associated Press, Testin said the song unites Americans and highlights our commonalities. He added the tradition should stay in place.
“Hearing ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ at a sporting event reminds us that despite our differences, we have something in common — we are Americans,” Testin said. “It’s a practice that unites us and I believe it’s worth preserving.”
But, the majority of American history has been plagued by both explicit and implicit discrimination towards people of color. America was built on slavery in the 1600s, then continued to discriminate against Black Americans through Jim Crow laws in the 1900s and now, systematic racism in police departments has led to the murders of 135 unarmed Black men and women since 2015.
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Let’s also not forget the Star-Spangled Banner was written by Francis Scott Key, a slaveholder from an old Maryland plantation family.
The bill dismisses racial justice movements like that of Colin Kaepernick, who began a campaign in 2016 to kneel during the national anthem which was linked with Black Lives Matter protests nationwide. By forcing sports venues to play the national anthem, the government prevents private sports teams from listening to the perspectives of their players, coaches and fans.
The national anthem is important to unify Americans under a common sense of purpose, and in that sense, Testin is right. The anthem has led our country through World Wars, economic recessions and terrorist attacks. But America is a democracy, meaning the people get to choose which ideas to opt into and which ones they don’t.
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Freedom of speech in the First Amendment of the Constitution prevents the government from forcing private companies to endorse types of speech they disagree with unless it concerns health or safety guidelines falling under Commercial Speech law. The National Anthem has nothing to do with that, rendering Testin’s bill unconstitutional and resembling authoritarian legislation abroad.
This bill would put the United States on par with China, which passed a bill on June 4, 2020 which criminalized disrespecting the national anthem in Hong Kong. Similarly, Egypt criminalized not standing for the national anthem, making it punishable with prison time in 2014.
Republicans have long opposed authoritarianism and free-market interventionism, most recently with party members calling state mask mandates a government overreach and a violation of civil rights. Despite this precedent, Sen. Testin and his colleagues are pushing for legislation calling for the State to force private companies to play nationalistic propaganda.
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The bill is also vague in how it only refers to “sporting events” funded by state or local government agencies. This wording could include anything from a 100,000-seat stadium to an elementary school t-ball field.
The ways in which the state will enforce this law aren’t clear either. Will a local police squad arrive at a youth soccer tournament to verify those in charge play the national anthem and if not, publicly arrest them?
The flaws with this bill must lead Wisconsin residents to question the priorities of Senators like Patrick Testin. Amid a pandemic that has left 7,152 Wisconsinites dead and is causing nearly 12,000 State unemployment claims per week, should requiring the playing of a song at sports games top their agenda?
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Congress can’t work to restore unity and the American spirit with unconstitutional legislation that threatens our freedom of speech. Instead, making sure Wisconsin’s hardworking people have access to financial aid, healthcare and vaccines in one of the darkest years in American history should top legislators’ agendas.
Sen. Testin and his colleagues who introduced the bill are choosing to play partisan games instead of working for the people they represent. The legislature must unanimously block this bill and move on to more productive — and constitutional — matters.
Will Romano ([email protected]) is a freshman studying economics and journalism.