Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen will not go quietly into the dark night of impeachment that many in the Arkansas legislature have in store for him. He’s written a blog post today about actions in the legislature aimed at removing him from office.
He says legislators’ conduct indicates a gap about what they claim to believe about freedom.
Frederick Douglass, the black abolitionist, once said, “There is no Negro problem. The problem is whether the American people have loyalty enough, honor enough, patriotism enough to live up to their own Constitution.” Now, as when Douglass made that statement, there appears to be a huge gap between what some politicians claim to believe about freedom and their conduct.
Arkansas legislators and other politicians have begun efforts to impeach and/or prosecute me. They are offended because I granted a temporary restraining order on April 14 in favor of a pharmaceutical distributor whose merchandise had been wrongfully appropriated by officials with the Arkansas Department of Correction. They claim to be outraged because I later that day attended a Good Friday prayer vigil with other members of my church congregation in front of the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion. They disapprove of what I have written about morality, social justice, law, and public policy in my blog.
Those politicians took an oath, as I did, to support the Constitution of the United States. Since 1791, the Constitution of the United States has included the First Amendment. The First Amendment guarantees freedom to exercise religion, freedom of speech, and the right to peaceably assemble to each person in the United States. The First Amendment guarantees my freedom to be a follower of Jesus, whether politicians like how I follow Jesus or not. The First Amendment guarantees my freedom to assemble peaceably with other persons, whether politicians approve of what I think. The First Amendment guarantees my freedom to express my religious beliefs as a follower of Jesus, whether politicians like my beliefs or not.
Now, as during the time of Frederick Douglass, the problem is not what I have said and done, who I am, or whether people approve of it. The problem is whether the politicians and judicial disciplinary investigators “have loyalty enough, honor enough, patriotism enough to live up to their own Constitution.”
Note to the politicians, investigators, and others who would like to suppress speech, religious expression, and peaceful conduct they find disagreeable: Article VI, Section 1 of the Constitution of the United States contains these words: This Constitution … shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding. Those words are part of the Constitution as it was originally adopted in 1787.
My critics took an oath to support the Constitution of the United States. We should insist that their actions match the oath they swore and respect the freedoms enshrined in the Constitution that governs all of us, and each person among us, especially when we disagree.
Political officeholders have the right to disagree with what others say and do. We have no right to use our offices to punish or threaten people for exercising their right to disagree with us. The word we use whenever that happens isn’t loyalty. It isn’t patriotism. It isn’t honor.
Whenever that happens, the word we use is tyranny.