I've never been in the Courthouse in Lee County, Mississippi. I'm sure that it has a security point that you have to go through to make sure that visitors aren't carrying weapons or items of contraband. If you happen to have business before the Hon. Talmadge Littlejohn, you might as well check your rights under the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America at the security point. Otherwise, you might wind up like Oxford lawyer Danny Lampley, pictured in his mug shot above.
Lampley's offense? Seems Judge Talmadge starts off the day in his Courtroom by having those in attendance recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Lampley, who was there on a divorce matter, refused to take part. For this he was found to be in criminal contempt of court and got to eat lunch on the County.
Why didn't Lampley want to say the Pledge of Allegiance? Simple. "I don't have to say it because I'm an American, " he told the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal.
I don't know if it's because we are in an exceedingly nasty election year or what. But this kind of ersatz patriotism seems to be in its ascendant mode. But the truth of the matter is this kind of silliness, from religious displays in public buildings, to candidates expressing opinions on the "truth" of evolution, pops up from time-to-time in the national consciousness. It just seems louder nowadays. Of course, the reason this kind of foolishness occurs periodically is because it is easier than actually solving problems. That and it works.
This, as we like to say around here, is a teachable moment.
The fact of the matter is that Lampley is right. Judge Talmadge can rule against him on matters of law from here to eternity. But he can no more legally order somebody to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance than he can order somebody to say the Rosary.
But why take my word for it? This is what the Supreme Court of the United States of America said about compulsory flag rituals in 1943 in West Virginia Board of Education vs. Barnette:
"The compulsory flag salute and pledge requires affirmation of a belief and an attitude of mind. [It] is now a commonplace that censorship or suppression of expression of opinion is tolerated by our Constitution only when the expression presents a clear and present danger of action of a kind the State is empowered to prevent and punish. It would seem that involuntary affirmation could be commanded only on even more immediate and urgent grounds. [But] here the power of compulsion is invoked without any allegation that remaining passive during a flag salute ritual creates a clear and present danger. [To] sustain the compulsory flag salute we are required to say that a Bill of Rights which guards the individuals right to speak his own mind, left it open to public authorities to compel him to utter what is not on his mind. [But if] there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein. If there are any circumstances which permit an exception, they do not know occur to us."
No official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in nationalism or politics or force citizens to confess by word their faith therein.
I don't know why Mr. Lampley didn't want to recite the Pledge. And it's none of my damned business. Neither is it any of Judge Talmadge's, who seems to be the very embodiment of the "petty official" in the mind of Justice Jackson who wrote the Opinion in Barnette.
He doesn't have to participate because he's an American. I hope Lampley appeals.