Playing our national anthem should be required in Florida

At a time when our country is deeply divided on law enforcement funding, critical race theory, vaccine and mask mandates, election integrity and border security, the national anthem stands as a symbol of our shared sacrifice, struggles and values as a nation.

As such it is an opportunity for unity, but it is also a civic responsibility to show respect for the flag that represents all of us.

The American flag, in all of its iterations over the years as we added new states to the union, has flown over battles in every war: for independence, to end slavery and unite the country, to free nations from fascism and imperialism, and to end atrocities in other countries that were being exported to our shores. Through all of this, the American flag has flown proudly, although sometimes in tatters, as our national anthem reminds us.

My wife and I are both proud military veterans; we believe strongly in civic duty – as do most Americans. If we are ever to be able to reunite as a nation, we will need some unifying symbols.

However, denigrating people based on the immutable characteristic of skin color – something I thought we had left in the past – forcing people to become pariahs in society for having a different opinion on their personal health care decisions and refusing to play the national anthem at sporting events are all actions that show contempt for our country.

They are not the path forward. They are actions that create divisiveness and hostility among Americans.

Earlier this year, for example, the Dallas Mavericks of the National Basketball Association stopped playing the anthem during their home games. This has not happened in Florida yet – but to proactively ensure that it cannot, I have introduced a bill requiring the national anthem to be played before all professional sporting events in the state.

House Bill 499 would require that: “Beginning July 1, 2022, a governmental entity may not enter into an agreement with a professional sports team that requires a financial commitment by the state or a governmental entity unless the agreement includes written verification that the professional sports team will play the United States national anthem at the beginning of each team sporting event held at the team’s home venue or other facility controlled by the team for the event.”

My friend and colleague. state Sen. Joe Gruters of Sarasota, has introduced a companion bill – SB 1298 – in the Florida Senate.

Texas responded quickly to the Mavericks’ move, and something very important and encouraging was revealed: There was true bipartisan support for requiring the national anthem to be played. In fact, Texas Senate Democrats overwhelmingly supported that state’s “Star Spangled Banner Protection Act,” which my bill is modeled after. 

Ten of the 13 Senate Democrats joined all 18 Republicans in supporting the Texas bill. Only two voted against it. Several of those Texas Democrats stood on their Senate floor and said they were voting in favor of the bill because of their support for military members fighting to protect our freedom – and some spoke of the importance of promoting national pride. The Texas House also passed the bill by a bipartisan vote of 110-34, with half of Democrats supporting it.

I truly hope we find the same level of Republican and Democratic support in Florida. Playing the national anthem, standing side by side and honoring our flag is an important civic duty and moment for national unity.

Originally published in the Sarasota Herald Tribune.