I’ve seen some recent discussion about footwear rules at Arlington National Cemetery. A barefooter was there and had one of the Military Police tell him he had to wear shoes.
So, what’s the real scoop?
The thing that always gets me with these sorts of discussions is that there is always somebody who is willing to share knowledge . . . that they only think they know. It’s rather like store employees who are sure that there are health codes.
In this case it was a person who claimed that “rights” are different on military bases (true), and that Arlington National Cemetery is a military base (false).
Yes, Arlington is under the control of the Department of the Army, but as far as I can tell, that does not make it a military base. After all, its regulations are part of the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations, and those regulations are authorized under 40 U.S.C. 318a, “The Public Property”; and 40 U.S.C. 486, “Management and Disposal of Government Property”. It’s not under Title 10, “Armed Forces”.
The official website for Arlington National Cemetery is here. On that website, you can find their Visitor Rules. (Actually, that page has a link to the PDF of the Visitor Rules, which is also found in the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations, 32 CFR §553.)
Part (f) has the rules for conduct:
(f) Conduct within the Cemetery. Because Arlington National Cemetery is a shrine to the honored dead of the Armed Forces of the United States and because certain acts, appropriate elsewhere, are not appropriate in the Cemetery, all visitors, including persons attending or taking part in memorial services and ceremonies, shall observe proper standards of decorum and decency while within the Cemetery grounds. Specifically, no person shall:
(1) Conduct any memorial service or ceremony within the Cemetery, except private memorial services, without the prior approval of the Superintendent or Commanding General. All memorial services and ceremonies shall be conducted in accordance with the rules established in paragraph (h) and, except for official ceremonies, paragraph (i) of this section. Official ceremonies shall be conducted in accordance with guidance and procedures established by the Commanding General;
(2) Engage in any picketing, demonstration or similar conduct within the Cemetery grounds;
(3) Engage in any orations, speeches, or similar conduct to assembled groups of people, unless the oration is part of a memorial service or ceremony authorized by this section;
(4) Display any placards, banners, flags or similar devices within the Cemetery grounds, unless, in the case of a flag, use of the same is approved by the Superintendent or Commanding General and is part of a memorial service or ceremony authorized by this section;
(5) Distribute any handbill, pamphlet, leaflet, or other written or printed matter within the Cemetery grounds except that a program may be distributed if approved by the Superintendent or Commanding General and such distribution is a part of a memorial service or ceremony authorized by this section;
(6) Allow any dog, cat, or other pet to run loose within the Cemetery grounds;
(7) Use the Cemetery grounds for recreational activities such as sports, athletics, or picnics;
(8) Ride a bicycle within Cemetery grounds except on Meigs Drive, Sherman Drive and Schley Drive or as otherwise authorized by the Superintendent under this subparagraph. All other bicycle traffic will be directed to the Visitors’ Center where bicycle racks are provided. Exceptions for bicycle touring groups may be authorized in advance and in writing by the Superintendent. An individual visiting a relative’s gravesite may be issued a temporary pass by the Superintendent to permit him to proceed directly to and from the gravesite by bicycle;
(9) Deposit or throw litter on Cemetery grounds;
(10) Play any radio, tape recorder, or musical instrument, or use any loudspeaker within the Cemetery grounds unless use of the same is approved by the Superintendent or Commanding General and is part of a memorial service or ceremony authorized by this section;
(11) Drive any motor vehicle within Arlington National Cemetery in excess of twenty miles per hour or such lesser speed limit as the Superintendent posts;
(12) Park any motor vehicle in any area on the Cemetery grounds designated by the Superintendent as a no parking area; or leave any vehicle in the Visitors’ Center Parking Lot at the Cemetery beyond two hours;
(13) Engage in any disorderly conduct within the Cemetery grounds. For purposes of this section, a person shall be guilty of disorderly conduct if, with purpose to cause, or with knowledge that he is likely to cause, public inconvenience, annoyance or alarm, he:
(i) Engages in, promotes, instigates, encourages, or aids and abets fighting, or threatening, violent or tumultuous behavior;
(ii) Yells, utters loud and boisterous language or makes other unreasonably loud noise;
(iii) Interrupts or disturbs a memorial service or ceremony;
(iv) Utters to any person present abusive, insulting, profane, indecent or otherwise provocative language or gesture that by its very utterance tends to incite an immediate breach of the peace;
(v) Obstructs movement on the streets, sidewalks, or pathways of the Cemetery grounds without prior authorization by competent authority;
(vi) Disobeys a proper request or order by the Superintendent, Cemetery special police, park police, or other competent authority to disperse or to leave the Cemetery grounds; or
(vii) Otherwise creates a hazardous or physically offensive condition by any act not authorized by competent authority.
Obviously, there is nothing there about footwear. Yes, it does mention “proper standards of decorum and decency”, but then it goes on to define them below. Footwear is not part of that.
There is also another paragraph saying that orders of the park police have to be followed, but that says proper orders, and courts have interpreted such language to require a definite basis for such an order—the police do not have authority just to make stuff up. Furthermore, that section talks about “dispersing” and “leaving”, which tells us that it applies to things like demonstrations or disorderly gatherings.
So, no, there is no rule requiring footwear to visit Arlington National Cemetery.
However, there is a footwear rule there. This footwear rule applies specifically to those participating in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. You can see that at the Dress Code For Public Wreath Ceremonies, where it says that the dress code is essentially business casual.
For both men and women it says “appropriate shoes”. Here’s a picture of such a ceremony from their web page.
As you go farther down the list, it then says that, among the items not appropriate for participation are “open toed shoes”.
I did find this photo, from a high school band participating in a wreath laying ceremony.
OK, technically, those are open-heeled shoes, not open-toed shoes.
But then there is this photo, from the Army website, entitled “Civilian awardees lay wreath at Arlington”.
These were special people participating because of an award they received. Included are Mike Duke, former Wal-Mart CEO, Barbara Van Dahlen, and Cheryl Jensen. (The latter two founded special programs to help the military.)
But those are definitely open-toed shoes. Ok, there is an exception in the rules. Here’s the addendum:
nice sandals [not shower type shoes or flip-flops] during warmer months for women is appropriate
But you can see it is definitely not “warmer months” (just look at how the spectators are dressed).
Oh, and she also seems to be violating the rule about how skirts should be “knee length”. But hey, they’ll always make exceptions for the powerful or the special, right?
What’s really annoying about this whole incident reported by the original barefooter is the utter capriciousness of it. There is no rule. But that didn’t stop a guard from thinking there was one.
But it seems that wherever we go, we have to be prepared for people in authority suddenly making up a supposed rule. So we either have to carry spare footwear with us (does anybody have to carry a spare hat just in case the existence of a rule is claimed?), or we have to research every place we are going to in advance and then print out the appropriate section of the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations.
(Even then, I might add, that doesn’t always work—many years ago I went to the Smithsonian and did exactly that. The guards still didn’t give a darn.)
Anyways, here’s the skinny on Arlington National Cemetery. Just make sure to carry backup footwear, or your copy of 32 CFR §553.