Jailed for Refusing to Recite the Pledge: Danny Lampley
Danny Lampley, a North Mississippi attorney, caused a stir on October 7, 2010, when at the behest of judge Talmadge Littlejohn, he refused to recite the pledge of allegiance. Littlejohn found Lampley in contempt of court and threw him in jail. The story was picked up by the AP and dissemenated around the globe at the speed of light.
Of course, Lampley was well within his constitutional rights to refuse to cite the pledge, an issue that was decided by the Supreme Court in 1943. But, if one only read the AP's initial report, he or she likely missed another of Lampley's important contributions to sanity: In 1995, Lampley, working as an attorney for the ACLU of Mississippi, represented Lisa Herdahl when she sued the Pontotoc County School District about the issue of school prayer.
A national story at the time, Herdahl was new to Mississippi and was shocked to find that school prayer was given every morning over the school's intercom system. When she asked the school board to stop the prayers, they ignored her. Her children became social pariah at the North Pontotoc Attendance Center, and one teacher even solved the problem by having one of Herdahl's children wear a pair of headphones during the morning prayer, humiliating him before his classmates. Herdahl was forced to take legal action.
Represented by Lampley, Herdahl won the case, but paid a steep price in Pontotoc when she refused to move. She was "threatened, forced to change houses" and she found herself "virtually unemployable in the area."
Those two examples are connected, not only by Lampley, but by two institutions of Mississippi willfully disregarding settled law, something that for me is completely unsurprising. The people of its small communities pride themselves on that backwardness, their sticking to tradition come what may. The problem with that desire for insular communities untainted by outside influence, though, is that it is becoming more and more unsustainable in an age of instantaneous information that circles the globe faster than one can say "under God".
It is hard to ignore the parallels to the story of another sanity award winner, Contance McMillen, who sued Itawamba Agricultural High School, also located in North Mississippi, and saw her story reported and discussed across the country. Twenty years ago, no one would have heard about Contance McMillen. No one would have heard about Lisa Herdahl or Danny Lampley. Today, those stories find audiences far outside Mississippi's borders, and I think that is a good thing. It is becoming more and more difficult for the majority to tyrranize minorities in Mississippi. Mississippi is being dragged kicking and screaming into the global age.
In Lampley, I see a pattern of standing up to those who would disregard the edicts of the Constitution, a pattern of standing up for civil rights, a man who has the courage of his convictions. In Mississippi, a state widely viewed as a cultural backwater, a reputation that, in my view as a native Mississippian, is deserved, I am encouraged that people like Lampley are here, fighting for sanity in a state that desperately needs it.
Update: A good short bio of Lampley can be found here. It's worth the read.