Sunday, December 12, 2010

Freedom is Still Alive in Mississippi

This post was contributed by Skepticat:

Although it seems some days that Mississippi is at the forefront of the effort to throw away everything good that we've achieved in the past two hundred years, it seems that freedom is still alive and possibly bringing some hope with it. Back in October, I blogged about Lee County Chancellor Talmadge Littlejohn's attempt to force local attorney Danny Lampley to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. When the attorney did not comply, Littlejohn had him thrown in jail for contempt of court.

The Clarion Ledger came alive with public responses. While a few (such as mine) were in favor of the attorney, most were heaping scorn upon him and praising the judge. If I saw a comment like, "OMG, IF YOU DON'T LOVE AMERICA, YOU NEED TO LEAVE IT!!" then I saw twenty of them. I couldn't believe that this red, Tea Party state that was supposedly so big on freedom would cheerfully shred the First Amendment and demand such overt loyalty to the state and it's unofficial religion. Well, actually, I could believe it. I hear this kind of nonsense everyday.

What did surprise me was the number of attorneys and educated people here in Mississippi who were outraged at the judge's actions. They seemed to be mostly confined to their own blogs and reluctant to comment in the newspaper but they spoke out nonetheless. I'm assuming that one of them filed a complaint against Littlejohn because apparently Lampley did not do so (I expect that he knew he'd be in Littlejohn's courtroom again and did not want to ruin his career). The important thing is that someone took a stand here for freedom.

This month, the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance recommended that Littlejohn be "publicly reprimanded" and pay $100 court costs for violating Lampley's rights. It seems like a slap on the wrist, particularly since Littlejohn tried to justify his actions by saying: 1) he'd always required the pledge, 2) Mississippi schools did so he should be able to as well, and 3) the First Amendment pledge case Barnette didn't apply to him. What illogic! What hubris! But the Commission didn't buy it - and if the Supreme Courts takes the advice, Littlejohn will have to pay up and have this reprimand on his record.

This is a victory for Mississippi atheists and believers alike though not all may realize it. Those of us who value our freedom understand how important Barnette was to reaffirming our First Amendment right to free speech and free religious exercise. The Jehovah's Witnesses fought this battle in 1943 because their religion forbids them from swearing loyalty to any secular power. Atheists may today fight this battle because of the insidious inclusion of the phrase "under God" to the pledge. Or anyone may fight this battle because no free society should force a citizen to swear loyalty to anyone or anything. As the fervent cries of socialist, communist, and fascist ring out against the left, you'd think that the right-wing would fight this battle so they would not have to swear loyalty to Obama (something that I think is only likely in their wildest dreams of persecution). But no, it seems that many Mississippians were lockstep with the tradition that the only acceptable form of patriotism is conformity. Many Mississippians - not all.

There were some who still valued freedom and they made their stand in whatever way they could. They made their stand in a little backward state knowing that their views would not be popular. They channeled the spirit of the Revolution by claiming those inalienable rights rather than wrapping themselves in a false flag of piety and nationalism. They are the patriots that I want to be counted with.

The Commission heard them and responded with justice. The First Amendment is still alive in Mississippi. Freedom is still alive and that gives me hope.

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