Although the custom is sometimes more honored in the breach than in the observance, the U.S.
During a rendition of the national anthem when the flag is displayed all present except those in uniform should stand at attention facing the flag with the right hand over the heart.
Given how finely-attuned candidates for high office usually are to the importance of symbolism, Illinois senator (and Democratic presidential hopeful) Barack Obama caused something of a stir in
The photograph itself is real, one of several images of the Iowa steak fry event published by Time, and shows Barack Obama standing with his hands clasped just below his waist, while New Mexico governor Bill Richardson, New York senator Hillary Clinton, and Ruth Harkin (wife of Iowa senator Tom Harkin) stand with their hands held over their hearts. It's difficult to establish context from a single still image, but other accounts (including the following ABC News video of the event) documented that the picture was as described:
(It's not clear from the photograph or the video just what the candidates are looking at in the photograph and video. The Flag Code advises that they should be "standing at attention facing the flag," but none of them is facing the flag displayed behind the platform on which they're standing. Presumably another flag was in place off to the right of the platform, since most of the candidates are facing that direction.)
As we noted earlier, although the U.S. Flag Code still specifies that those present should stand "with the right hand over the heart" during the playing of the
Experts on the national anthem say the law seems a bit out of date, given its reference to a man's "headdress." Yet it's still cited in several military manuals found on the Web.
Modern custom does not require a hand over the heart, said Anne Garside, director of communication for the Maryland Historical Society, home of the original manuscript of The Star-Spangled Banner.
"I think the bottom line is that you show respect with your demeanor," she said. "Whether you put your hand over your heart, hold your hat at shoulder level or waist level, is really in this day and age irrelevant."
As for whether this incident was an "accident," whether Senator Obama habitually declines to perform the hand-over-heart gesture, or whether there's any particular meaning to the
When television's Inside Edition ran a segment on this issue, they included some images (supplied by the Obama campaign) of the senator standing with his hand over his heart during other playings of the national anthem:
The text accompanying some versions of the
During the Democratic candidates' debate on
A spoof article about Barack Obama's stance on the