In Mississippi, if you don’t recite the pledge of allegiance in court, you can find yourself in the slammer—even if you’re a lawyer.
On October 6, attorney Danny Lampley was in Judge Talmadge Littlejohn’s Tupelo courtroom representing a client in a divorce case when the judge entered and asked everyone to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance.
Lampley stood up. That wasn’t the problem.
No, the problem was that Lampley refused to recite the pledge.
So the judge cited him for contempt of court and jailed him for five hours, adding that “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.”
The judge lifted the charge, for the moment at least, so Lampley could continue to represent his clients. But Judge Littlejohn reserved the right to reinstate the charge.
Lampley has held his ground. He told a local newspaper, “I don’t have to say it because I’m an American.”
But that fact seems to be lost on the judge, as does the meaning of the First Amendment and the force of precedent.
Back in 1943, the Supreme Court ruled that children in public schools can’t be forced to say the Pledge.
The ACLU of Mississippi said it is “appalled” by the jailing of Lampley and it called on Judge Talmadge to “honor the First Amendment rights of individuals in his courtroom.”
“The right to be free from state-coerced oaths is a fundamental constitutional protection," said Bear Atwood, Interim Legal Director for the ACLU of Mississippi. “This issue usually comes up in a school context, and courts have repeatedly and resoundingly upheld the right of students not to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. A judge has no more right to order an attorney in his court to recite the pledge than a teacher does in a classroom."
I left a message with the court administrator in hopes of getting comment from the judge, but that call was not returned.
My calls to Lampley’s office went straight to a recording: “This is Danny Lampley. In the aftermath of the event that occurred on October 6, I am unable to take calls and at the same time take care of my client’s needs and my business. You may leave a message, but I cannot promise that I will call you back, and I probably will not.”
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