By NEMS Daily Journal
Only Danny Lampley knows for certain why he didn’t stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance last Wednesday when asked to do so, along with others in the courtroom, by Chancery Judge Talmadge Littlejohn.
Or why he didn’t back in June, when he also declined similar instructions from the same judge.
“I don’t have to say it because I’m an American,” is the only explanation the Oxford attorney has given publicly.
But Littlejohn doesn’t agree. Lampley’s refusal to recite the pledge got him thrown in jail for 41/2 hours on Wednesday when the judge found him in criminal contempt of court. The only way for Lampley to purge himself of the charge, Littlejohn wrote in an order, is to come back to the courtroom, stand and say the pledge. Lampley won’t do it.
Reciting the Pledge of Allegiance is not routine practice in most courtrooms. Yet most people surely wonder why Lampley would refuse to say it when asked.
He is, after all, a part of the American justice system. The courts in which he practices are central to the effort to ensure the “liberty and justice for all” that the pledge asserts as the American ideal.
How could someone whose very livelihood is made possible by the American system of government not express, publicly and explicitly, his loyalty to the flag and “the republic for which it stands”?
It’s easy to understand the judge’s befuddlement, frustration and even anger. Yet here’s the hard truth: Judge Littlejohn should not have sent Lampley to jail nor held him in contempt for his refusal to recite the pledge. He should simply have ignored it.
It’s one of the paradoxes of our great American system that people have the right to express an unpopular opinion, even the refusal to pledge loyalty to the very nation that gives them that right. Presumably this is what Lampley means when he says he doesn’t have to say the pledge “because I’m an American.”
We don’t have to understand, and certainly don’t have to agree with, Lampley’s stance to recognize that putting him in jail for it – even for a few hours – is not the American way. And forcing a person to state what is an effect a political opinion in order to clear himself of a criminal charge seems on the face of it a violation of First Amendment rights more characteristic of undemocratic regimes.
We think Lampley is wrong in his refusal to publicly affirm his loyalty to the nation that ensures and protects his liberty. But our nation’s constitution gives him the right to be wrong – without going to jail for it.