Friday, June 17, 2011

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First Guess: Politics and the Pledge
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First Guess:

I Pledge Allegiance... Voluntarily.

From to the right of the Countdown set, I'm Keith Olbermann with a First Guess.

For once I bring you good news from the battle to restore patriotism from mandatory and fear-driven, to inspired - and by choice.

Last October, Judge Talmadge Littlejohn of Tupelo, Mississippi, began his court day by leading the Pledge of Allegiance.

Fine. I don't have a problem with that.

But when an attorney named Danny Lampley did not join in and recite the pledge out loud, Judge Littlejohn cited him for contempt of court, fined him a hundred dollars, and jailed him.

This week, the Supreme Court of Mississippi ruled that Judge Littlejohn had absolutely no right to do what he did. It ruled unanimously that the Judge acted improperly.

You cannot force people to Pledge Allegiance.

This is the essence of this country. Because Judge Talmadge Littlejohn had no idea whether Attorney Lampley might have been saying it along with everybody else silently, or if he had problems with the phrase added on 62 years after it was written - the "Under God" part - or if he believes we should always practice the freedom of which we boast and not force people to act like patriotic robots.

Once before this country tried to make the Pledge mandatory - just before the Second World War the United States Supreme Court actually ruled that "national cohesion" was more important than the religious rights of Jehovah's Witnesses not to swear allegiance to anybody but their creator.

Just three years later the Court overturned that ridiculous premise worthy only of a nation of goose-steppers. Justice Robert Jackson put it perfectly: "If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox, in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion - or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein."

So hats off to the Mississippi Supreme Court for living up to those words, which are a lot finer, and a lot more descriptive of what this country is all about, than any pledge or anthem or playing of "God Bless America" at the ballpark. The latter... are all words and songs about freedom. The former... is freedom.

Keith Olbermann in the Countdown Newsroom. See you Monday... on Current TV.