During the national Anthem, Americans space asked to placed their ideal hands over your hearts. But why?


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children salute the American flag in 1915. Library the Congress/Wikimedia Commons

While countless American Olympians that win gold in Rio ar their appropriate hands over your hearts when listening come "The Star-Spangled Banner" top top the podium, others do their own thing. Take Michael Phelps, who after win the 200-meter butterfly earlier this mainly stood on the podium with his arms by his side, almost get over with emotion (and then laughter) as that accepted his 20th career Olympic yellow medal.

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What the Olympians most likely don"t realize, however, is the the U.S. Flag Code calls for anyone addressing the flag, either throughout the Pledge of Allegiance or the nationwide anthem, to placed their appropriate hands over their hearts. But there"s no orientation lesson from the U.S. Olympic Committe that mandates exactly how athletes have to appear, i m sorry shouldn"t be surprising, as mark Dyreson, pen State professor and also Olympic scholar, tells invoice Plaschke for The Los Angeles Times. This omission is thanks to the rich heritage of freedom of expression in this country. Or, together Dyreson puts it, “In the unified States, cost-free speech trumps all.”

But whereby did the idea to control the means Americans pick to respect the flag come from, anyway? together it turns out, the U.S. Flag Code dates earlier to the not-too-distant year of 1942. The decision to enact began with the Pledge that Allegiance—a routine that provided to involve a salute that required you to raise your right hand, flip her palm down, point it towards the flag in a salute and recite the words. This instructions could seem unthinkable this particular day for apparent reasons—they’re memory of rows that Nazis saluting their Fuhrer. But think it or not, they date from the start of the Pledge itself.

As Bob Greene writes for CNN, the right-handed salute is component of the Pledge’s strange history. Originally known as the Bellamy Salute, the gesture happened in the 1890s, when the Pledge the Allegiance was composed by Francis J. Bellamy. The Christian socialist minister was recruited to write a patriotic pledge come the American flag as part of newspaper mogul Daniel sharp Ford’s search to gain the flag into public schools.

At the time, as Jeffrey Owen Jones reported because that Smithsonian magazine in 2003, Bellamy and also his boss both agreed that the Civil battle had divided American loyalties and that the flag might be able to bridge those gaps. His project centered around the 400th anniversary the Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the brand-new world. He released his new Pledge as part of a combined Columbus day ceremony regime in September 1892 in the pages that the Youth’s Companion, a well-known children’s magazine v a circulation the 500,000.

“At a signal indigenous the Principal,” Bellamy wrote, “the pupils, in notified ranks, hands to the side, face the Flag. An additional signal is given; every pupil provides the flag the army salute—right hand lifted, palm downward, to a line through the forehead and also close to it. Was standing thus, every repeat together, slowly, "I pledge allegiance to my Flag…"” (The words of the Pledge itself have actually a long and contentious background of your own, together Amy Crawford wrote for Smithsonian magazine last year.)

The Pledge progressively picked increase steam, particularly as educators concerned about the gigantic influx of immigrants in the 19th century sought ways to instill patriotic values and also a feeling of national, assimilative identity. V their appropriate hands raised, youngsters all over the country recited the Pledge in school and also at publicly events.

Then came fascism, and also the increase of a salute used by pendant of a charismatic politician called Adolf Hitler. The dictator seems to have actually made a Nazi "Heil Hitler" with elevated arm the official gesture the his party after witnessing Italian Fascists performing the salute. As Jessie Guy-Ryan reports because that Atlas Obscura, both the Italians and the Germans claimed that the salute was based in Roman and also medieval Germany history, respectively, despite they both had actually purely contemporary origins—and Smithsonian.com reporter climbed Eveleth note that confusion over the fascist salute and a comparable salute come the Olympic flag make the 1936 Olympics even an ext hairy politically.

Now that the one-armed salute smacked an ext of totalitarianism than of American patriotism, Americans exit the gesture that had actually been a prize of national unity for 50 years. The 1942 U.S. Flag password attempted to street the Pledge that Allegiance from the country"s avowed enemies, instructing saluters to put their best hand over their heart while reciting the Pledge, and also consisted of instructions for civilization to salute the flag through their ideal hand over their heart when listening to "The Star-Spangled Banner." (Though the track was written back in 1814, it had actually only been the joined States" official anthem because 1931.)

The relatively new tradition of place the appropriate hand end the love didn"t end conflict over the Pledge, i beg your pardon has sustained multiple legal tests about whether students can be compelled to recite that (they can’t) or even if it is the native “under God” violate the first Amendment (they don’t.) and also despite needs to do both in ~ U.S. Code, neither gesture have the right to be enforced.

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Now, 239 years ~ the united States" flag first flew, that still stirs up solid emotions. So even if you"re not about to medal in Rio, the next time you hear the nationwide anthem or the Pledge, simply remember that also the most innocuous-seeming national traditions have actually a facility past.