Texas state legislators have approved a bill that would withhold government funding from state sports teams that choose not to play the national anthem before games and sporting events. The bill, dubbed the Star-Spangled Banner Protection Act, was passed in the Texas House by a voice vote on Monday (May 24) and will now move to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk, where it’s expected to be signed into law today (May 25).
Critics of the bill claim it is unconstitutional. Under the legislation, professional sports teams would forfeit the chance to receive state money if they choose not to play the national anthem. Sporting teams that don’t play the song could also be required to repay any of their previous government funding back to the state.
“Once again, we’re carrying legislation that is openly and aggressively unconstitutional,” Democratic State Rep. Gene Wu said Monday.
House Republicans backed the controversial bill, though, and claimed it does not violate the right to free speech.
“It’s very simple. If they do not want to play the national anthem, they don’t take the tax dollars,” Rep. Dustin Burrows, who sponsored the bill, said per The Texas Tribune. “If we’re going to go ahead and subsidize with hard-earned American dollars the sporting facilities and the teams in the different ways that I think is articulated in this bill, then this would apply.”
Democrats tried to amend the legislation to require teams to play either the “Star-Spangled Banner” or “Lift Every Voice and Sing” or both. However, the proposed change was shut down by conservatives.
“‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’ is commonly known as ‘the Black national anthem,’” Rep. Jasmine Felicia Crockett, who authored one of the amendments, said. “I don’t even understand why we would feel the need to force someone into singing any song, but if we are going to force people to sing a song, we should at least be mindful of the people playing on these teams — the people that are actually in the stands supporting these teams.”
Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said the bill was a legislative priority earlier this year after Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said he would stop playing the national anthem before home games. However, Cuban’s decision was later overruled by the NBA.