Video of a children’s choir singing the national anthem at the Capitol but being unceremoniously interrupted by federal authorities circulated on social media on Friday.
Capitol Police say singers from Rushingbrook Children’s Choir of Greenville, South Carolina, were stopped on May 26 due to a miscommunication. Musical performances at the sacred seat of Congress require permission, and police said officers were unaware the choir had permission from the Speaker of the House. Capitol Police denied choirmasters’ claims that the performance was stopped because it could be offensive.
Choir director David Rasbach and Micah Rea, a choir director who helped organize the trip, told The Associated Press they worked with the offices of Representatives William Timmons, Joe Wilson and Russell Fry, all South Carolina Republicans, to get permission for the presentation. They said they were informed that the visit had been approved by the office of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.
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After visiting Wilson’s office for photos, the group went on a tour of the Capitol that ended in Statuary Hall, famous for housing a collection of statues donated by each of the 50 states, where the choir began to steps. A visitor guide asked if they had permission for the show, Rasbach and Rea said, and told them they could start singing as soon as he consulted with someone else.
Video shows the children conclusion of the first verse of the national anthem as the spectators applauded. But as they started another verse, an officer can be seen talking to Rea and another man. About a minute later, a man identified as a Wilson associate approached Rasbach to stop the singing.
“When they stopped us and I walked up to the Capitol police, I said, ‘Why are you stopping us?'” Rasbach said. “They said, ‘Because this is considered a demonstration and we don’t allow demonstrations in the Capitol.'”
Rasbach said that in later conversations with Capitol Police, an officer told him that “it wasn’t just a demonstration, but she said people could be offended,” and by this he meant they could be offended by the national anthem. He could not give the name of the officer who made this statement because he never asked for it. Rea agreed with Rasbach’s description of the conversation.
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Capitol Police initially issued a statement saying they were under the impression that the group did not have permission to perform in the building. They later issued a second statement saying there had been a “miscommunication” and that police were “unaware that the Speaker’s Office had approved this performance.”
Musical performances are among those activities specifically listed as requiring a special permit from the Capitol Police, along with demonstrations such as marches, rallies and vigils, filming or photography for commercial use, and foot races, according to a policy posted on the agency’s website.
“While pop-up demonstrations and music performances are not allowed at the Capitol without proper approval, due to a miscommunication, the Capitol Police Department was not aware that the Speaker’s Office had approved this performance,” the second statement read. “We apologize to the choir for this miscommunication that affected their beautiful rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner and their visit to Capitol Hill.”
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In their initial statement about the event, Capitol Police addressed the idea that the show was being shut down because it could be offensive.
“Someone recently posted a video of a children’s choir singing the Star-Spangled Banner at the US Capitol Building, falsely claiming that we stopped the performance because it ‘might offend someone’. Here’s the truth. Demonstrations and musical performances are not allowed in the Capitol. Of course, since the singers in this situation were children, our officers were reasonable and let the children finish their beautiful rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner,” the statement read.
McCarthy and three South Carolina representatives who had worked with the choir confirmed that the speaker’s office had invited the choir to the Capitol.
“We recently learned that South Carolina schoolchildren were disturbed while singing our national anthem at the Capitol,” they said in a joint statement to the AP. “These children were welcomed by the Speaker’s office to joyfully express their love for this nation while visiting the Capitol, and we are all deeply disappointed to learn that their celebration was cut short.”
Associated Press writer Philip Marcelo contributed to this report.
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