SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The debate over whether people should stand for the playing of the national anthem has now come to Sacramento, courtesy of a federal lawsuit filed against the city by a Las Vegas man who says he is afraid he could be arrested if he refuses to stand for the song at future Sacramento Kings games.
Jack Lipeles, who has operated jewelry and car service businesses and has been dubbed the “Jeweler to the Stars” because of his business and social ties to celebrities such as former boxing champ Mike Tyson, filed the suit last week alleging that Sacramento’s city code makes refusing to stand for “The Star-Spangled Banner” a crime.
“Plaintiff is unwilling (and should not be required) to subject himself to criminal prosecution in order to preserve his constitutionally (protected) right to freedom of speech,” the lawsuit says. “Consequently, it is impossible for Plaintiff to attend Kings game(s) but not stand for the Anthem.”
Lipeles, 73, declined to comment, referring questions to Costa Mesa attorney Joseph Adams, who said he had never seen such a provision in a city code before.
“Frankly, I found it fascinating myself,” Adams said. “I’ve worked in the area of municipal law and it’s the first time I’ve ever seen such an ordinance. It was surprising.”
City spokesman Tim Swanson said the city had not yet been served with the suit and declined comment, but he added that he was not aware of the city ever enforcing the measure.
The requirement to stand for the anthem is spelled out plainly in the city code.
“The song, ‘The Star-Spangled Banner,’ is recognized as the national anthem of the United States,” the city code states. “When this music is played on a proper occasion during ceremonials, at the close of concerts, theatres, etc., all present shall stand at attention, facing the flag, or, if no flag is displayed, facing the music, and shall render the salute to the flag.”
Failure to comply is punishable as a misdemeanor with a fine of $500 to $1,000 and up to six months in jail, the lawsuit says.
The suit contends that the portion of the city code on how to behave during the playing of the anthem is “unconstitutional on its face” and seeks a permanent injunction to halt it from being enforced.
Lipeles’ lawsuit says that following the city’s requirement “would create the false impression” that he disapproves of others who kneel during the song to protest racial injustice.
Controversy over such silent protest has raged at the national level since 2016, when athletes — most notably former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick — began taking a knee during the playing of the song to protest police brutality against Black citizens and others.
President Donald Trump and others have denounced such protests, but the number of athletes saying they want to draw attention to racial injustice has grown since the May 25 death of George Floyd while he was being detained by Minneapolis police officers.
Floyd’s death has spawned worldwide demonstrations, including repeated marches in Sacramento, and has created a new national debate on racial injustice that has included the removal of statutes seen as insensitive. The debate also led to NASCAR banning the Confederate flag from its racetracks and led Mississippi lawmakers to remove the Confederate battle flag from its state flag.
Adams said Lipeles’ lawsuit is more a matter of principle — and his desire to go to a future Kings game — than a nod to his ties to celebrity athletes.
“I don’t know if he feels inclined to kneel during the anthem, I don’t know if he’s a participant during these protests,” Adams said. “What he doesn’t like is the city telling him he has to stand.”
©2020 The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.)