Video of a children’s choir singing the national anthem in the United States Capitol, before being unceremoniously interrupted by federal authorities, spread on social media on Friday.
Capitol Police say singers from the Rushingbrook Children’s Choir of Greenville, South Carolina were arrested May 26 due to miscommunication. Musical performances in the hallowed seat of Congress require permission, and police said officers were unaware the choir had the Speaker of the House’s approval. Capitol police denied claims by choir leaders that the performance was stopped because it could be deemed offensive.
Choir director David Rasbach and Micah Rea, a choir conductor 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 obtain permission for the performance. They said they were told the visit was approved by the office of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.
After stopping at Wilson’s office to take photos, the group took a tour of the Capitol that ended at Statuary Hall, famous for housing a collection of statues donated by each of the 50 states, where the choir began. to occur. A visiting guide asked if they had permission to attend the performance, Rasbach and Rea said, and told them they could start singing once he conferred with someone else.
The video shows the children concluding the first verse of the anthem to the applause of the audience. But as they begin another verse, an officer can be seen talking with Rea and another man. About a minute later, a man identified as a member of Wilson’s staff approached Rasbach to stop the chanting.
“When they arrested us and I walked up to the Capitol Police, I said, ‘Why are you arresting us? ‘” Rasbach said. “They said, ‘Because this is considered a protest and we don’t allow protests on Capitol Hill.'”
Rasbach said that in later conversations with Capitol Police, an officer told him that “not only was it a protest, but she said people might be offended,” and that he understood that to mean that they might be offended by the national anthem. He was unable to provide the name of the officer who made this statement, as he never asked for it. Rea agreed with Rasbach’s description of the conversation.
Capitol Police initially released a statement saying they felt the band did not have permission to perform in the building. They later released a second statement saying there had been “miscommunication” and that police “were not aware that the president’s office had approved this performance.”
Musical performances are among the activities specifically listed as requiring a special permit from the Capitol Police, along with demonstrations such as marches, rallies and vigils, any filming or photography for commercial purposes and running races, according to a policy posted on the agency’s website.
“Although pop-up demonstrations and musical performances are not permitted in the US Capitol without proper approval, due to miscommunication, US Capitol police were unaware that the President’s office had approved this performance,” the second statement read. “We apologize to the choir for this miscommunication which impacted their beautiful performance of the Stars and Stripes and their visit to Capitol Hill.”
In their initial statement about the event, Capitol Police raised the idea that the show was shut down because it might be offensive.
“Recently, someone posted a video of a children’s choir singing the Star-Spangled Banner in the United States Capitol and falsely claimed that we stopped the performance because it ‘might offend someone’. Here’s the truth. Protests and musical performances are not permitted in the United States Capitol. Of course, because the singers in this situation were children, our officers were reasonable and allowed the children to finish their beautiful interpretation 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 Bureau had invited the choir to the Capitol.
“We recently learned that school children in South Carolina were interrupted while singing our national anthem at the Capitol,” they said in a joint statement to the AP. “These children were welcomed by the President’s office to joyfully express their love for this nation during their visit to the Capitol, and we are all very disappointed to learn that their celebration has been cut short.”
Associated Press writer Philip Marcelo contributed to this report.
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