A group of high school students attending a conservative leadership conference in Washington, D.C. said they were ordered by a security guard to stop singing the national anthem during a June 25 visit to the Lincoln Memorial.
“They told them to stop singing,” said Evan Gassman, a spokesman for the Young America’s Foundation. “I was taken aback. You wouldn’t expect a display of national patriotism to be censored.”
U.S. Park Police confirmed that the students were in violation of federal law and their impromptu performance constituted a demonstration in an area that must remain “completely content neutral.”
“The area they were standing in and singing is an area that is restricted for this type of activity,” said Sgt. David Schlosser. “The United States Park Police is absolutely content-neutral when it comes to any sort of demonstrations in these areas.”
Schlosser explained that performances, regardless of content, are banned to “maintain a contemplative and reverent area for the Lincoln Memorial, for the other guests and visitors.”
The incident occurred on June 25 as students were taking a monument tour of the nation’s capital. The decision to sing the national anthem at the memorial was a spur of the moment event, according to Shawn Balcomb, of Richmond Hill, GA.
“We got maybe two lines in and a police officer came over and he was yelling,” Balcomb said in a telephone interview. “He quieted us down.”
Balcomb, 17, said the officer told the group they were being too loud.
“I was dumbfounded,” he said. “I didn’t realize there was something wrong with singing the national anthem.”
Schlosser said the students would have been in compliance had they moved approximately 25 steps from where they were standing.
“It’s not the content of their activity – that being the national anthem – it’s the location,” he said. “A couple steps and it would have been no problem whatsoever.”
Instead of doing as they were instructed, Gassman said the students resumed the song – an impromptu form of civil disobedience.
“If their idea of civil disobedience is singing the national anthem, then so be it,” Gassman said. “Let them disobey.”
YAF posted video reportedly shot just after the alleged encounter with the security officer. It shows students loudly singing the anthem.
“That’s the most offensive thing out of all this,” he said. “They really did not provide the students a reason.”
In May, a group of Christian students was allegedly ordered to stop praying outside the U.S. Supreme Court building because a court police officer told them it was against the law. However, a spokesperson for the Court said they did not have a policy prohibiting prayer.
Balcomb, who is a high school senior, said they didn’t intend on creating a ruckus – they just wanted to show their patriotism.
“It’s not like we sounded great or anything,” he said. “We just wanted to pay respect to our nation – in our capital.”
Schlosser, who commended the students on their musical ability, said the students were not cited and to his knowledge no report was filed.
“We need to make certain that all other visitors that don’t want to be a part of that or just choose to be tourists are able to do so in the same light that probably President Lincoln wanted – which is completely content neutral,” he said.