Stand up and show respect for the national anthem or risk being ejected from Manheim Township sporting events.
The school district is under fire after an announcer delivered those blunt instructions to parents and fans attending a varsity soccer game earlier this week.
“This guy comes on the PA, the announcer, and he gives a dissertation to everybody, kind of angrily,” Manheim Township parent Marcus Blomeier, who stopped by the girls’ soccer game while waiting for his daughter to finish cheerleading practice, said Wednesday.
“He says, ‘When we do the national anthem, if you do not stand, you will be removed from the game.’ I'm like, did I really just hear that?” Blomeier said. “I was floored. Where do you draw the line?”
The district says the angry parents misunderstood the remarks, but says officials plan to review the script used by announcers at home games.
The national anthem, district spokeswoman Marcie Brody said Wednesday, is performed by students, and announcers at all school sporting events ask audiences to be respectful of the performers.
People who are not respectful may be removed, Brody said. But, although the audience is asked to rise and face the flag for the anthem, she said no one is told they will be removed if they don't comply.
“This isn't anything new,” Brody said, noting the script for the announcement has been unchanged for at least a year.
However, the script provided to LNP by the district on Wednesday clearly states that people who do not “rise and face the flag” and “display dignity and respect for our flag ... will be removed from the stadium.”
The controversy erupted amid the ongoing national discussion over Colin Kaepernick, the San Francisco 49ers quarterback who ignited a national debate by refusing to stand for the anthem. Kaepernick said he was protesting the treatment of minorities in the United States.
Penn Manor parent Jennifer Stallings Seabolt said she was outside the Blue Streaks stadium on Tuesday when the announcement was made.
“They went through a whole thing about respecting the flag, that our veterans fought to protect our freedoms, and if you don’t stand to respect our flag as appropriate, you will be removed,” she said. “I was like, what, did they actually just say that?”
Brody insists parents misheard the announcer’s instructions.
Announcers at all Manheim Township sporting events are asked to be respectful of the people singing the anthem, she said.
People who are not respectful may be removed, she said — but no one is told they will be ousted if they don’t stand and face the flag.
“This isn’t anything new,” Brody said, noting the script for the announcement has been unchanged for at least a year.
“After we reread it, we thought maybe there was a little miscommunication,” she said. “That’s not the intent. ... We will look at the wording.”
Brody emailed a copy of the script, which she said was used at Tuesday's game, to LNP. It does not say anything about respecting the anthem’s performer.
“Ladies and gentlemen, please rise and face the flag, gentlemen please remove your headgear. During our national anthem we ask that everyone display dignity and respect for our flag, the symbol of the freedom that was won by the millions of men and women who have defended and continue to defend our great nation,” the script reads. “Anyone not honoring this request to be respectful will be removed from the stadium.”
Brody said the announcer Tuesday was a district employee but did not provide his name.
Seabolt disagreed that it was a misunderstanding.
“That’s definitely not what I heard,” she said.
In fact, Seabolt said she spoke with the announcer afterwards. Although she did not get his name, she said he told her “it wasn’t his words, he was given a paper to read from the athletic director.”
Blomeier, too, disputed the district’s version of events.
“That’s what I heard,” he said. “I couldn’t believe it when I heard it.”
Maybe the announcer misspoke or went off-script, he said, but “I’m pretty sure I know what I heard.”
Freedom of expression
Jeremy Blevins, another district parent and a Manheim Township graduate, was not at the game Tuesday but said he heard from many people afterwards who were angry about the announcement.
Citizens have a right to protest during the national anthem, Blevins said.
“Manheim Township shouldn’t be able to dictate to the taxpayers whether we can sit or stand,” he said.
Blomeier, a six-year veteran of the U.S. Marines, said people should respect the flag, but he supports their right to dissent.
“I choose to stand, and that’s fine,” Blomeier said. “But if the guy beside me chooses not to — it’s like religion. Everybody has their freedom of expression. If you don’t take your hat off, I don’t think you’re telling dead soldiers that you don’t care about them.”
Seabolt said she told the announcer “it’s absolutely illegal, if they would try to go through with it. We have First Amendment rights. The announcer seemed surprised that was even an issue.”
Seabolt said she will contact the district about the incident.
“I don’t understand why there is a need to quash somebody else’s expression of what they feel is right or wrong,” she said. “It’s your right to be disrespectful.”
Penn Manor spokesman Brian Wallace said the announcement read before Penn Manor games says people may be removed from events for abusive language or for taunting the players or coaches.
The Penn Manor announcement ends by asking attendees, “out of respect for our country,” to “please remove your caps and rise” for the national anthem.
MaryCatherine Roper, deputy legal director for the ACLU of Pennsylvania, said the law supports the individual’s right to decide how to act during the national anthem.
“The bottom line is that students — and parents — at a public school event have the right, under the First Amendment, to sit out, to take a knee, or otherwise to decline to participate in the national anthem, and they cannot be punished in any way for doing so,” she said in an email Wednesday.
Wendell Hower, executive director for PIAA District 3, which oversees school athletics in the area, did not immediately return calls on Wednesday.