- Associated Press - Thursday, October 7, 2010

TUPELO, Miss. | When a Mississippi judge entered a courtroom and asked everyone to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance, an attorney with a reputation for fighting free-speech battles stayed silent as everyone else recited the patriotic oath. The lawyer was jailed.

Attorney Danny Lampley spent about five hours behind bars Wednesday before Judge Talmadge Littlejohn set him free so that the lawyer could work on another case. Mr. Lampley told the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal he respected the judge but wasn’t going to back down.

“I don’t have to say it because I’m an American,” Mr. Lampley told the newspaper.

The Supreme Court ruled nearly 70 years ago that schoolchildren couldn’t be forced to say the pledge, a decision widely interpreted to mean no one could be required to recite the pledge.

On Thursday, the judge again asked those in the courtroom to pledge allegiance to the flag.

“I didn’t expect the Pledge of Allegiance, but he asked me to do it so I did it,” said Melissa Adams, 41, who testified in a child custody case that was closed to the public.

Mr. Lampley, 49, previously refused to say the pledge in front of Judge Littlejohn in June. He was asked to leave the courtroom, but returned after the pledge.

The attorney told the newspaper Wednesday it was a problem for the judge and himself to work out, yet blogs across the country lit up with fiery comments and support for both sides.

And in the small town of Tupelo, the birthplace of Elvis with a population of about 35,000, some were infuriated by Mr. Lampley’s silence.

“I thought he was a disgrace to the United States,” Bobby Martin, a 43-year-old self-employed maintenance worker, said of Mr. Lampley. “If he can’t say that in front of a judge, he don’t deserve to be here” in this country.

Others voiced support for the attorney.

“I’m speechless. The judge needs a reminder copy of the First Amendment,” said Judith Schaeffer, a Washington attorney who, along with Mr. Lampley, successfully sued the Pontotoc school district in northern Mississippi in the 1990s to stop students from praying over the intercom.

Danny’s going to stand up for everybody’s principles,” she said. “Danny loves the Constitution. He’s a staunch defender of constitutional rights.”

Mr. Lampley was representing a client in a divorce case when he was found in contempt. The judge’s order, obtained by the Associated Press, said: “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.”

An AP reporter tried to arrange an interview with the judge at the courthouse, but a clerk said he was unavailable and the order spoke for itself.

Mr. Lampley didn’t return telephone calls, and a voice message said, “In the aftermath of the event on Oct. 6, I am unable to respond to all of the telephone calls and at the same time take care of my business and clients.”

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