Alabama bill would require schools to play ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’

Under proposed amendment, public K-12 schools would have to perform or broadcast national anthem once a week

By: - May 5, 2023 1:02 pm
A man smiling and looking ahead.

Sen. Gerald Allen, R-Tuscaloosa, listens to a colleague on March 7, 2023. Legislators gathered Tuesday for the first day of the Alabama Legislature’s 2023 regular session. (Brian Lyman/Alabama Reflector)

The Alabama Senate State Governmental Affairs Committee Wednesday approved a bill that would amend the state Constitution to require schools to play “The Star-Spangled Banner” at least once a week during school hours. 

The committee approved SB 238, sponsored by Sen. Gerald Allen, R-Tuscaloosa, on an 8-3 vote, with some committee members asking why the bill was necessary. 

“Who came to you and said this bill was essential?” said Sen. Robert Stewart, D-Selma. 

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Allen said he took a “personal poll,” but he did not explain what that meant. He also said he could poll the audience that attended Wednesday’s meeting, claiming it would match what he found earlier.

The amendment would require local boards of education to play or broadcast the first stanza of “The Star-Spangled Banner” during school hours, with a version archived with the Library of Congress. School boards could also adopt a policy to perform it with sheet music, also from the Library of Congress.

The amendment would need the approval of 60% of both chambers – 63 votes in House; 21 in the Senate – to pass. If approved by the Legislature, the proposal would go to state voters for approval. 

Francis Scott Key wrote the song after seeing an American flag fly above Baltimore’s Fort McHenry after an American victory over the British in the War of 1812.

The bill does not include penalties for violations. Allen said local boards of education would be responsible for enforcement.

Some committee members questioned the need for the bill. Sen. Merika Coleman, D-Pleasant Grove, identified herself as a military brat and said she grew up hearing “The Star-Spangled Banner” frequently, but the song did not make her patriotic. She said American history made her patriotic.

At the same committee meeting, the committee approved a bill that would restrict the teaching of “divisive concepts,” which critics say would prevent the accurate teaching of Black history. Coleman is the chair of the Alabama Legislative Black Caucus.

Allen said to look at what’s “happening nationwide currently,” but he did not specify. 

“It’s going to serve the purpose for the young children that may not have had the opportunity to hear the national anthem,” he said.

He said that many go to “ball games” like him but not all parents do. 

Coleman commended Allen for how the bill was written, which starts with a history of the song. But she said she was unclear why Allen wanted children to hear the song weekly.

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“So, what I’m still trying to figure out again, like what it is you’re trying to achieve by children hearing the national anthem,” she said. “Because the story behind it, the history behind it, is really what they need to hear. Like what’s actually written in the bill, about how we got to “The Star-Spangled Banner, not the song itself, but the history of it.”

Allen said that the bill is about teaching children to be “patriotic and loving this country,” but he did not address Coleman’s earlier point about how history, not repeatedly hearing the song around base, made her patriotic.

“It starts early on, and, certainly, I think that’s the driving force behind why I think this bill is important,” Allen said.

Sen. Keith Kelly, R-Anniston, asked Allen if he considered making it a daily requirement. Allen said they had considered that early.

Sen. Linda Coleman-Madison, D-Birmingham, said that the policy should begin with the State Board of Education. She said she doesn’t agree with it being a constitutional amendment.

“Our Constitution is long enough,” she said.

She also told a story about her liking the beat of a hip-hop song and only later processing the lyrics. She said that kids will not become patriotic through repetition of singing the song.

“And, if we really want to instill patriotism in our young people, this is not the answer, so I can’t support you,” she said.

The bill moves to the full Senate.

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Jemma Stephenson
Jemma Stephenson

Jemma Stephenson covers education as a reporter for the Alabama Reflector. She previously worked at the Montgomery Advertiser and graduated from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

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