Civil and Human Rights

Miss. judge jails attorney for not reciting pledge

 

TUPELO, Miss. — A Mississippi judge jailed a lawyer for several hours for refusing to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, ordering the attorney to “purge himself” of contempt by standing and repeating the oath like the rest of the courtroom.

After Oxford attorney Danny Lampley spent about five hours in the county jail Wednesday, Chancery Judge Talmadge Littlejohn let him go free. Lampley, 49, was released so that he could represent another client, the judge said in a later order.

Lampley told The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal he respected the judge but wasn’t going to back down.

“I don’t have to say it because I’m an American,” Lampley told the newspaper. “I’m just not going to back off on this.”

The Supreme Court ruled nearly 70 years ago that schoolchildren couldn’t be forced to say the pledge, a decision widely interpreted to mean no one could be required to recite the pledge.

Yet Lampley’s silence infuriated some in the small town of Tupelo, the birthplace of Elvis with a population of about 35,000.

“I thought he was a disgrace to the United States,” Bobby Martin, a 43-year-old self-employed maintenance worker, said of Lampley. “If he can’t say that in front of a judge, he don’t deserve to be here” in this country.

Many others took to blogs to voice their support for the judge or the attorney.

Lampley has won free speech cases before. He sued the Pontotoc school district in northern Mississippi in the 1990s to stop students from praying over the intercom and was victorious representing a Ku Klux Klan leader when a county in the Mississippi Delta tried to prevent a rally.

Lampley was representing a client in a divorce case when he was found in contempt, according to the judge’s calendar.

“Lampley shall purge himself of said criminal contempt by complying with the order of this Court by standing and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in open court,” according to the order, which was obtained by The Associated Press.

Neither Littlejohn, who is in his mid-70s, nor Lampley responded to telephone calls from the AP.

“I’m speechless. The judge needs a reminder copy of the First Amendment,” said Judith Schaeffer, a Washington attorney who worked on the school prayer case with Lampley. “Danny’s going to stand up for everybody’s principles. Danny loves the Constitution. He’s a staunch defender of constitutional rights.”

Littlejohn is a Sunday School teacher in his hometown of New Albany in northern Mississippi and a former state lawmaker. He’s in his second term as a chancery judge and presides over divorces and child custody disputes.

Judges in Mississippi are elected, though they run in nonpartisan races. Littlejohn is running unopposed for re-election in November.

He ran for a congressional seat as a Democrat in 1996, finishing second out of three candidates in the Democratic primary. He lost a runoff.

Bear Atwood, an ACLU attorney in Mississippi, said there was a long established precedent that a person can’t be compelled to stand and say the pledge.

“It’s simply not permissible to force someone to do that,” Atwood said.

The Pledge of Allegiance has faced challenges since it was published in 1892.

In 1943, the Supreme Court ruled that children in public schools could not be forced to salute the flag and say the pledge. In 1954, the words “under God” were added to the pledge, when members of Congress at the time said they wanted to set the United States apart from “godless communists.”

In March, an appellate court upheld references to God on U.S. currency and in the Pledge of Allegiance, rejecting arguments they violate the constitutional separation of church and state.

Atwood said Lampley could file a complaint with Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance, but the best way to handle the situation was to “educate the judge on why he shouldn’t do it again.”

To read the AP article, click here.

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