Give thanks or go to jail

It was all over the news in October –  Mississippi Chancery Judge Talmadge Littlejohn jailed an attorney who refused to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in his courtroom.

I was nothing short of baffled to hear that an officer of the court in his 70s — who spent his long career as a state lawmaker, prosecutor and judge — could get the Constitution so completely and appallingly wrong. Even someone with the most basic understanding of the First Amendment should realize that compulsory unification of opinion is unconstitutional.

To make matters worse, Littlejohn stubbornly stuck to his guns, requiring all in his courtroom to again recite the pledge just one day after the national uproar over his treatment of lawyer Danny Lampley.

The Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance last week recommended to the state Supreme Court that Littlejohn be publicly reprimanded and pay $100 in court costs for jailing Lampley, according to the Clarion Ledger.

“A chancery judge has admitted he violated the rights of a Tupelo lawyer by having him jailed for not reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in his courtroom,” the Ledger notes in its article. “The commission says Littlejohn is now making the pledge voluntary in his courtroom.”

Pardon? How can a judge make voluntary that which was never compulsory?

In delivering the Supreme Court’s 1943 opinion against forcing students to recite the pledge — a decision widely interpreted to extend to all individuals — Justice Robert Jackson said: “To believe that patriotism will not flourish if patriotic ceremonies are voluntary and spontaneous instead of a compulsory routine is to make an unflattering estimate of the appeal of our institutions to free minds.”

Littlejohn, who apparently has much respect for this nation and the principles upon which it is founded, failed to see the irony in his order — give thanks for your freedom or go to jail. A bit paternalistic, isn’t it?

I don’t know about you, but I want my judges to have a fair grasp of the Constitution before making any life-altering decisions.

Apparently the Mississippi voters don’t share my sentiments, or they have very short memories. Littlejohn was re-elected without opposition on Nov. 2. He will serve his third four-year term starting January.

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