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Cleaning up Michigan's criminal code (making it safe to sing the Star-Spangled Banner)

Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio

There have been times when we all wished there was a law on the books against something.

In the past, Michigan lawmakers have written many of those wishes into the state criminal code. 

For example, in 1931, Michigan lawmakers decreed how the national anthem (aka the Star-Spangled Banner) should be performed:

How played—The national hymn or anthem, “The Star Spangled Banner”, shall not be played, sung or otherwise rendered in this state in any public place nor at any public entertainment, nor in any theatre, motion picture hall, restaurant or cafe, except as an entire and separate composition or number and without embellishments of national or other melodies; nor shall “The Star Spangled Banner” or any part thereof or selection from the same, be played as a part or selection of a medley of any kind; nor shall “The Star Spangled Banner” be played at or in any of the places mentioned herein for dancing or as an exit march.

“When Jose Feliciano sang the national anthem in the 1968 World Series, it broke new ground in how it was performed,” says State Representative Chris Afendoulis. “Quite possibly that day he committed a misdemeanor in Michigan.”

Afendoulis is part of a legislative group looking at cleaning up Michigan’s criminal code. He says they are looking at dozens of old, outdated and even unconstitutional criminal statutes among the more than 3,000 on the books. 

On Tuesday, the state House Criminal Justice committee will consider Afendoulis’ bill that would repeal the Star-Spangled Banner rules, using indecent language in front of women and children, and other laws.

Afendoulis doesn’t like referring to these laws as “frivolous."  

“A legislature passed them, and a governor signed them,” Afendoulis points out. “They were important enough to become laws. But times change, people’s viewpoints change.”

However they are still on the books.

“People are violating laws they don’t even know they violating,” says Afendoulis. “We’re sort of over-criminalizing behavior in Michigan and a lot of states.”

Afendoulis says the legislative work group is looking at many more old, outdated criminal statutes. They hope to bring more forward to have repealed.  

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.
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